BREMEN — Dylan Hensley isn’t exactly Triton’s most prolific 3-point shooter. In fact, the senior forward had made just three of them through the Trojans’ previous 19 games headed into their rematch at Bremen.
Well, the 6-2 front courter nearly doubled that season total Thursday, but his last attempt — a would-be game-winner from the wing — fell just a little short as time expired in Bremen and Triton lost a narrow, 43-41 decision to the Lions.
It definitely wasn’t the result the Trojans were hoping for, but for a team struggling to find confidence during a rough, late season stretch, it looked like a substantial step in the right direction.
“I’m proud of them. I can’t be mad at them because if we make that last shot, we win, and everybody is in a different mood,” said Triton head coach Jason Groves. “There’s just such a fine line between winning and losing. You’ve got to do the things throughout the course of the game to impact that; it’s not just what goes down at the end of the game. I’m definitely proud of our kids. They worked hard, they battled and found a way to put themselves in position to win but just didn’t come out on top.”
Hensley provided the Trojans (6-14) with an X factor in Thursday’s rematch of the two teams’ Bi-County opener back in mid-January, as he doubled his average with 10 points. He did the majority of his damage from behind the arc with 2-of-5 3-point shooting, and his coach was confident in his ability to knock Triton’s final attempt down.
Not surprisingly, the visitors’ last play was designed for leading scorer Ross Johnson. Equally unsurprising, however, was that the Lions weren’t giving him any space with the game on the line. Drew Stichter drew a trap on the left wing and passed over the top to Hensley, and Hensley’s shot caromed short as the final buzzer sounded on a down-to-the-wire thriller in Bremen.
“He can shoot,” said Groves of Hensley. “That’s one thing that we’ve talked about with our bigs — he and Tyler (Heckaman) can shoot the 3 decently so if they ever pop out and get open, they have the green light to do that. That play obviously was supposed to go to Ross at first. We kind of set a back screen for Beau (Hepler) to try to get open, but there was a little hold on Ross; he could not get free from that hold. I told them to hit Drew, and I said ‘Dylan, pop out because your man is going to be helping. Look to win the game for us.’ He had that look and just didn’t knock it down.”
The Trojans have struggled to score the ball this season, and Groves and his staff green-lighted Triton’s lineup from long range early Thursday in an attempt to spark some offense. The Trojans knocked down just 4 of a profuse 24 3-point attempts — including an 0-for-7 start in the first quarter as the two teams combined to miss all but two of their first 17 shots — but they were at least stepping up and shooting with confidence, which was in itself a step in the right direction.
Groves said he saw some of that in his team’s 55-47 loss to John Glenn over the weekend and was hoping to build on it at Bremen.
“We’re trying to find ways to score. I want them to be aggressive. I want them attacking,” he explained.
“I said ‘Come out and be aggressive. If you’re open, knock down a shot.’ We’ll adjust from here and see who’s hitting, but we’ve got to get guys coming out being aggressive, being confident in their shots, being confident in themselves, being confident in each other, so that’s kind of the point behind that. I thought against Glenn we did a nice job of that late in the game. The kids just played with no fear; they attacked and shot shots and knocked down shots. I think it was just confidence. I’m trying to build up their confidence a little bit and get them to be a little more aggressive.”
Much like in that Glenn loss, the Trojans seemed counterintuitively to play with more confidence when trailing by large margins in Bremen.
A 12-3 run by the Lions early in the third period left Triton trailing by its largest deficit of the night at 35-23, but the Trojans closed out the period with six unanswered points to whittle Bremen’s lead down to two possessions and eventually pulled within two on Hepler’s steal and one-and-one with 1:14 remaining in the game. After an old-fashioned 3-point play by Justin Zumbrun on the other end, Hensley kept it within two with his second straight 3 of the fourth quarter, and two missed opportunities by Bremen in the bonus left the score at 45-43 and gave Triton one last shot.
“Sometimes our kids are a little bit more aggressive, a little more confident. I don’t know why, it’s like they get down and feel like ‘OK, I can play a little bit more free.’ That’s why we try to be aggressive early — sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” Groves said. “I thought it started defensively. We got after it and turned them over a little bit, and they started to attack. During those stretches where we claw back in it, we just actually knocked down some shots. That’s where we struggle so we’ll go in droughts, and we’ll go in little spurts where we can actually hit shots.”
While Hensley gave the Trojans 10, sophomore Tyler Heckaman put up four points with six rebounds in the start for Triton. Johnson led his team as usual with 15 points and six rebounds. He got much of his scoring done at the foul line with a 7-of-8 free throw shooting going on the attack after a pep talk from his coach at the first quarter break.
“At the end of the first quarter, I said ‘Ross, have you attempted any shots? Have you driven to the basket? No. No.’ I said ‘You’ve got to be aggressive for us to be successful.’ I think he took that to heart and had a nice game the rest of the way,” said Groves.
Bremen, meanwhile, got a game-high 16 points from 6-3 junior Brooks Feldman as the Lions (5-16) looked to use their size advantage in the paint. Fellow junior Justin Zumbrun chipped in 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench, putting up double figures in spite of having his floor time limited by intermittent foul trouble Thursday.
With their first win in nine games, the Lions close their regular season at Culver Community today, while Triton finishes up its Hoosier North Athletic Conference slate in a game with Knox moved from Plymouth to Argos tonight.
Also Thursday, Triton won its JV game in another nip-tuck contest, 42-40.
Hunter McIntyre scored 15 points with six rebounds and four steals, and John Gardner scored nine with two assists and three steals for Triton’s junior varsity, which rallied past their hosts with a 19-7 fourth quarter.
Brian Hardin put up 13 points with six rebounds for Bremen, and Reeze Willis scored nine with three assists and two steals.