Cats gain credence versus state power

Herald Sports Writer

EVANSVILLE — The proceedings seemed expected for any number of reasons.

Maybe it was Evansville Harrison’s No. 2 preseason ranking in the Class 4A poll. Maybe it was that three Jasper players were making their first varsity start. Perhaps it was the combined 2-foot height advantage the Warrior starters held over the Wildcats, or the fact that Jasper’s full roster had practiced together for only four days. Harrison boasts a Division I commit. Jasper doesn’t. Everyone in the state knew Harrison. Jasper didn’t even know itself yet.

So when Harrison standout senior and University of Vermont recruit Ernie Duncan cashed a 3-pointer to give the Warriors a 10-point cushion before Jasper recorded its first basket, it all seemed to be going as most anticipated inside the Warriors’ gym.


But then Tyler Begle countered with a corner 3 of his own, Courtland Betz added another and Alex Allen latched onto an offensive rebound and put it back up and in. All of a sudden, it was a blowout turned ballgame. And it continued for the better part of Tuesday’s season opener before Jasper’s turnovers and Harrison’s free throw proficiency furnished the Warriors with a 74-63 victory.

“We put up a good fight,” said Jasper guard Nolan Ahrens, one of the three Cats making his first varsity start. “But unfortunately, we couldn’t get the win.”

The Wildcats (25-for-46) and Warriors (24-of-48) finished with practically identical field goal numbers, and after Harrison outrebounded Jasper by 12 in last season’s skirmish, the Cats manufactured a 24-21 rebounding edge.

While most numbers suggested parity, two categories provided the separation, Jasper coach John Goebel said. The seventh-year coach applauded his team’s offensive patience and knack for selecting proper shots but found its occasional carelessness with the ball and 19 turnovers a bit irksome. Add to that a noteworthy free throw imbalance and the eventual double-digit defeat became a bit more explicable.

“Some of (the turnovers), you have to credit Harrison. Their hands and feet are so athletically quick. They forced some of the turnovers, some of the turnovers were just bad decisions on our part,” said Goebel, who’s winless in four games against the Warriors. “So when you turn the ball over 19 times and you get outscored by 14 at the foul line, then you wonder how you lost by 11. The two go hand in hand.”

The Warriors converted 21-of-25 free throws compared to Jasper’s 7-for-9. Ernie Duncan’s brother Everett drilled all eight of his foul shots, while Ernie drained 10-of-12 en route to a game-high 27 points, accompanied by five assists and three steals.

Just how challenging was the task of curbing the versatile senior guard, his two brothers, juniors Everett and Stanley, and a host of other slashers who helped Harrison average more than 71 points per contest last year?

Ahrens couldn’t help but chuckle.

“It was pretty hard,” said Ahrens, who amassed a team-high 22 points, including 17 in the second half on 6-of-6 field goals and 3-for-3 from the free throw line.

Added a candid Goebel: “If (Ernie Duncan) wanted to go to the bucket, he generally went to the bucket. … We tried to stop him tonight and were not able to do that, so you’ll have to ask someone else how to contain him.”

Aside from a widened gap late in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats (0-1) kept pace the whole night. And just as Goebel anticipated, a pack of players helped prolong the persistence.

Among Begle’s eight points, which all came in the first half, Ahrens’ 22 and Austin Alles’ 10 points, the Wildcats struck from near and far (6-of-11 from 3-point range). And despite the turnovers, point guard Craig Shepherd and freshman reserve Tyler Nottingham developed poise as the game matured, Goebel said.

Betz, however, showed the coach even more.

The senior came off the bench with the Cats down 10-0 and “provided an offensive spark for us,” Goebel said. “He didn’t put his head down, he stayed positive and that’s the kind of thing you need out of your seniors: provide the right leadership.”

Maybe more influential than his nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, Betz dished out a team-high six assists. With 6:58 left in the first half, Betz penetrated and kicked to Begle, who knocked down his second triple of the half to give Jasper its first and only lead, 17-16. With nine seconds left in the half, Begle corralled an offensive board and kicked to Betz, who located Alles just inside the arc. Alles buried the 17-foot jumper and despite Everett Duncan’s trey with less than a second before the halftime buzzer, the Cats trailed just 34-30.

“Going into halftime, we really felt that we had a chance to win this game,” Begle said.

“Whether it’s down 20, down 10, we’re not going to back down no matter what.”

The Warriors’ 11-2 run to start the second half buried Jasper in a hole once again. And once again, the Cats clawed their way back, cutting the deficit to 53-50 when Betz swished a delicate 5-foot jumper in the lane off a pass from Philip Huebschman with 6:36 to play.

Betz assisted Ahrens’ second 3-pointer with 2:33 remaining as the Cats inched within 65-59 but couldn’t creep any closer.

For Goebel, the result offered a valuable yet dangerous premise: Jasper hung around with one of the state’s best. Now comes using the episode to motivate and resist the complacency temptation.

“It showed that we can be a good team, but I think the pitfall you fall in is to start thinking, ”˜Hey, we competed with Harrison. We’re going to have a great season.’ We have a lot of work to do, and we have to recognize that,” Goebel said. “We can be proud of our effort tonight but we have to be disappointed in the loss. … We can’t live on this battle against Harrison. That’s not going to take us anywhere. We’ve got a long schedule, a tough schedule and a long way to go.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at

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