AKRON — With a special guest watching in the audience, Tippecanoe Valley’s Jalen Shepherd put on quite a show during Friday night’s game against visiting Wawasee.
The Vikings upperclassman knocked down 10-of-11 shots on his way to a game- and career-high 23 points and pulled down six rebounds to boot, leading Valley to a 48-45 senior night win over the Warriors in Akron.
“He played well. That was by far his best game,” said Valley coach Chad Patrick. “His dad was up here. He lives in Florida, but his dad was up here watching. I’m not sure, but that may have added a little extra oomph.
“Jalen had the best game of the year. Good time to have it.”
While Shepherd did most of the finishing for his team — which scored a full 32 points in the paint on the way to 19-of-31 (61.2 percent) shooting — he was the beneficiary of some good dribble penetration by his teammates. And that, says Wawasee coach Jon Everingham, was the real problem.
“Those were little dump-downs, power layups where we had trouble containing penetration. He had a good game, congratulations to him, but it was more about our inability to contain penetration,” he said.
It was Wawasee’s Ethan Hardy who actually got rolling on the interior first as he knocked down each of his first four shots as part of a 16-11 first period by the Warriors. Hardy wound up with a team-high 15 points on perfect, 5-for-5 shooting from the floor in a standout game, but he got fewer and fewer looks as Valley switched from man-to-man to a zone in the second quarter. The Vikings caught their guests off guard changing once more from a 2-3 to a 1-3-1 trap in the period and ran off 11 unanswered points to take a 30-23 lead at halftime.
“We were trying to play man-to-man, and they’re so methodical on offense. They handle the ball well. They back cut, and they slipped picks and just picked us apart,” explained Patrick. “So we went 2-3, and I could see they were going to hold it, and — we work on this in practice — we went from a 2-3 to a 1-3-1 in the same possession and adjusted. We just bring Cam (Parker) up, drop back, and we really hurt them with that trap and that pressure. We let them hold it for about 30 seconds, and then we went after them. They weren’t ready for that, and we got three or four steals in a row and outscored them 19 to seven in that second quarter.”
“We’ve obviously been very patient with Ethan Hardy’s development this year, and he’s really come into his own recently in the last four or five games. That’s good for us because he does give us some inside presence,” Everingham said. “Tippy, after he scored some early buckets, were really trying to double- and triple-team him on the inside, take him away.”
Wawasee chipped away over the third period, tied it up at 38-all at the 6:27 mark of the fourth and even briefly retook the lead with Kameron Salazar’s steal and assist of an Austin Miller fast break lay-up at the 5:29 stop of the clock. But Shepherd’s old-fashioned 3-point play on a Tanner Trippiedi inbounds pass with 2:30 to go put the Vikings back out front at 42-40, and Valley players cooly converted 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch to hold off their guests.
“I thought Salazar and (Josh) Slabaugh both came in and gave us some much-needed energy late,” said Everingham. “I think we were down by as many as seven late third, early fourth. I told the kids we’ve been in those positions before. We play very poised. You could see our energy got better, and we were more active with our hands and I thought our offense kind of fed of that.”
“We had that seven-point lead at halftime, and I thought we could build on that but Wawasee is a good team. Their record doesn’t indicate how good they are,” Patrick said. “They’re a really solid team, and we were lucky to get a win there. But I thought we finished well. We have had some games that we let get away from us in the same situation, and we obviously have learned from those. Took a timeout late, hit our free throws, got the ball in the right players’ hands at times and were strong with the ball. All the things we’ve worked on, so that was a big win against a tough team.”
Valley also enjoyed a 24-11 rebounding advantage in the win, including six offensive rebounds for a full 12 second chance points. The Vikings pulled down 12 rebounds to just three by the Warriors in the first half.
“They killed us on the boards. That’s a tough one to see all the time as a fan, but as a coach I know it was one-and-done,” said Everingham. “We were getting one shot and then going down and playing defense. That was a big factor in the game. They did what you have to do — play defense, get rebounds and make free throws down the stretch.”
The Vikings defense limited Miller to nine points and held Wawasee sharpshooter Ben Hoffert to only two points and 0-for-5 3-point shooting. The Warriors did get a boost by freshman Keaton Dukes, however, as he put up 12 points in the start for his team.
“He’s a nice player, a freshman. I knew he was playing some, but I didn’t know he was going to start,” said Patrick.
While Wawasee got most of its production from Dukes and Hardy, Valley got solid contributions from its seniors on senior night in Akron. Parker scored eight points with seven rebounds and two assists and spear-headed the Vikings’ strong defensive effort, while Wes Melanson scored five points with two rebounds and two assists, and Parkur Dalrymple passed out a pair of assists as Valley (13-9) finished the regular season with its second straight win.
“The seniors, before the year started, I wasn’t sure how good they would be, how many of them we were going to be able to play. I was looking at a younger group, a younger class, thought we were going to have to keep building for the future. Now I’m not sure how I’m going to replace those five seniors. They’ve just grown by leaps and bounds, kind of gelled and done really well,” Patrick said.
Wawasee (6-15) closed the regular season with its fifth straight loss, meanwhile. The two teams may well see each other again during Sectional 21 action at Wawasee next week. Both drew the bye — Valley waits to play the winner of the NorthWood-Fairfield opener Friday, while the Warriors wait for the winner of a Lakeland-West Noble quarterfinal in Friday’s late semifinal. Both coaches agree it’s a wide open sectional field, and they may well square off again in Saturday’s championship.
“Boy, that sectional is going to be tough. It’s wide open,” said Patrick.“Fairfield is probably the best, but NorthWood and West Noble are really good. I could make a case for all six to win it. I think we’ve got as good a shot as anybody but Wawasee on their home court, Lakeland, if they shoot well, they’re tough to beat. It’s going to be a tough, tough sectional and a very even sectional. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’ll be the teams that can come out and put three or two games together. I’m happy we got the bye — we’ve only got to put two together.”
“Both of us would love to play again. It has nothing to do with tonight’s game; it just means you win in the sectional,” Everingham said. “We’re really focused on just one game. It’s going to be an exciting week next week because it’s not very often that there’s six teams that think they’ve got a chance, and I think there are. And legitimately so — I think there’s six teams that have a chance. Not only the teams but the fans and the parents and the people associated with the programs are going to be really excited, and they’re going to come out and support their teams. I think it’s going to be a really cool environment for basketball next week.”
Also Friday, Wawasee’s JV won its contest, 38-30. The junior varsity Vikings led 26-23 after three periods but were held to just four points on the way to the Warrior win. Jackson Stover scored all of his team-high 10 points during the fourth quarter, while Jaydon Boyer finished with eight for Wawasee. Braden Shepherd scored a game-high 13 points for the Vikings in the loss.