WARSAW — The good news first: Warsaw owns a share of the Northern Lakes Conference for a fifth straight season. Unfortunately, the Tigers — who clinched at least half of the NLC crown with a win at Plymouth last Friday night — will have to share that title with Elkhart Memorial.
Memorial junior reserve Brackton Miller knocked down all five of his 3-point attempts, and the Chargers split the conference crown with host Warsaw at the Tiger Den following a 48-45 win Tuesday.
“We’re disappointed. We didn’t want to share, but Memorial did a good job,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle.
“It’s not lost on us that we did win the conference. We’re sharing it. To go five years in a row to have at least a share of the conference is remarkable.”
Memorial lost just its second NLC game of the season by a 61-57 margin in overtime at Plymouth back on Jan. 4 but won out the remainder of its conference slate to split with Warsaw, the Chargers’ first conference title since 2012, at 6-1.
“Any time you can fight your way through the NLC season, it’s a tough conference to play through. Obviously, you have a one-loss team sharing the title. Year-in, year-out, you’re going to kind of see that,” said Memorial coach Kyle Sears. “Warsaw has been so consistent for so long, and Doug has done a great job with them. They’ve shared it for, what, the last 55 years, it feels like. It’s been a long time, so hat’s off to them as well.”
Memorial’s back court duo of Hank Smith and Trey Gallope came into the game averaging 28 points a game, and Warsaw’s defense held the duo to 19 combined points, but Miller provided the X factor. He went 5-for-5 from beyond the arc and a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor in Warsaw, his only miss of the night splitting a pair of free throws with just 8.2 seconds remaining in the game. His 18 points was a game-high and the difference-maker Tuesday.
“Miller is the outlier in tonight’s game. He comes into the game shooting 25 percent on 3s, and he’s shot quite a few. I think he’s shot, probably, 60 3s, and he’s shooting 25 percent. Tonight he’s 5-for-5, but I think we could’ve survived that had we shot better ourselves and gotten some better shots,” said Ogle.
“Credit to him. That’s a memory that he’ll have for a long time.”
While Miller converted all five of his 3-point attempts, Smith connected on 3-of-5 triples as the Chargers knocked down 8-of-16 3-pointers, compared to 4-of-15 shooting from deep by their hosts. The Tigers were nearly as bad from the free throw line, making just 5-of-14 opportunities from the foul line, although Memorial wasn’t any better at 6-of-15 from the charity stripe.
“We’re shooting 40 (percent), and 4-out-of-15 is 26.7 (percent). It was really the 3-point shooting was the difference in the game and our missing free throws,” Ogle explained.
The Tigers fell behind by as many as eight points during the second period but rallied back with a 15-3 run spanning from the 1:10 stop of the second period to the 2:54 mark of the third stanza. They still led, 39-36 headed into the final period, but a 4-0 start to the quarter put the Chargers back out front at 41-39. Twice more the lead changed hands, but a long jumper from Smith gave the visitors a tentative, 43-42 lead with just 3:26 to play, and they never relinquished it again.
“It’s a hard-fought NLC game tonight,” said Sears. “You know that that eight-point lead isn’t going to last very long, and they brought it all the way back, so they went on a 12-point run at some point. You knew they were going to go on a run like that. They’re well-coached, they’re a good group of players, and we kind of had to weather that for a little bit.”
While Miller finished with 18 and Smith put up 13 for Memorial (16-5, 6-1 NLC), Nolan Groninger put up 14 points with three assists and two steals Tuesday before fouling out with 1:14 on the game clock. Trevor Rumple scored 10 for the Tigers (13-6, 6-1 NLC).
The good news for Warsaw is they’ll get another shot at the Chargers in round one of the Elkhart Central Sectional next Tuesday.
“I think we can glean a lot from this game. There’s a lot of takeaways. They can do the same thing, and it’ll be a game that they’re looking forward to,” said Ogle. “I told the players ‘Sure, we’re not happy. We’re ticked that we didn’t win the game, but it’s not the end of the world.’ We’re going to get to play them again, and maybe we can do better a week from tonight. We’re going to move forward.”
“That’s the tough thing about playing tonight. He knows he’s already got a share of the conference so it’s kind of a little bit of gamesmanship, too, I think,” Sears said. “But I think it’s a heck of a preview for what’s going to come next Tuesday because it’s going to be another hard-fought battle. There’s going to be those runs, it’s going to be back-and-forth, and both teams will be ready. Unfortunately, we know each other way too well. I think it’s absolutely a preview. It’s just too bad it has to happen on night one.”