Hot-shooting Blackhawks too much for JeepsMarch 5, 2018
By JONATHAN SAXON
FRENCH LICK — Bodies were hitting the floor in the house that Larry Bird built. Every time you looked up, there seemed to be players hitting the deck, either chasing after loose balls or fighting through opposing jerseys for a shot at the rim.
But after it was all said and done, Northeast Dubois lost the sectional championship game to the Springs Valley Blackhawks 68-54 in French Lick on Saturday night.
Northeast Dubois coach Terry Friedman made no excuses and said Springs Valley, whom the Jeeps beat 45-42 in a home game on Jan. 20, simply outplayed his team in the sectional final.
“I’m not disappointed in my team’s performance...I was impressed with Springs Valley,” he said. “They had much more purpose to their game. They knocked down a lot of shots early and got us in a hole; we didn’t respond very well to that.”
The first quarter started off like the first round of a boxing match, with both the Jeeps (15-10, 6-2) and Blackhawks (19-6, 5-1) taking jabs at each other’s defenses to penetrate the lane and get a rhythm going. But both squads proved stout early, as players who made attempts to the bucket were swarmed by at least three opposing defenders when they entered the paint.
Still, Northeast Dubois seniors Brandon Merkel, Alan Kerstiens, and Griffen Bauer were able to find the basket for the Jeeps. But Springs Valley was able to hold onto an early 7-6 lead, and finally gained the upper hand after a 3-pointer by senior guard Zachary Carnes. Carnes combined with Jackson Land, Ryan Tow, and Christian Tucker to give the Blackhawks a 12-7 lead after one quarter of play.
Springs Valley built on the momentum they were able to catch toward the end of the first, and bridged the opening two quarters with an 8-1 run to take control of the game.
It wasn’t any easier trying to get layups in the second quarter, so instead the Blackhawks took to the perimeter in search of their offense. Carnes was able to knock down two more 3-pointers and senior guard Braden Whitaker drained a triple of his own to lead the Blackhawk bombing efforts in the second quarter.
Northeast Dubois kept coming up empty in their shots to the baskets, but senior guard Alex Harder was able to scrape together seven points, which led the Jeeps in the second quarter. In total, the Blackhawks outscored the Jeeps 15-10 to go up 27-17 at the end of the first half.
Springs Valley kept the pressure from the perimeter going against the Jeeps in the third quarter. Tucker scored a quick 3-pointer to set off a 14-9 Blackhawks run, which put the boys from French Lick ahead 41-26 with 2:50 left in the third. Northeast Dubois responded with back-to-back 3-pointers from Harder and Kerstiens, but the Jeeps were beset by turnovers in the third quarter.
Almost every time they tried to make a run, Northeast Dubois would either lose the ball on a deflected pass or commit offensive fouls in an effort to fight for breathing room inside the paint. The Jeeps fought through the miscues to put 15 points together, but still found themselves down 47-32 by the end of the third quarter.
But Northeast Dubois kept on swinging. The team had played all season long with their Jeep edge — the tough-nosed, in-your-face attitude they brought night in and night out. It was this attitude the Jeeps adopted against their opponents as they pestered shooters, swiped at passing lanes, and attacked the opposing paint to send a clear message: This will not be an easy out. And that edge was on full display in the final quarter.
Harder got things started in the fourth with a jumper from the free-throw line. Then senior forward Chase Riecker hit a 3-pointer. Kerstiens added another of his own to bring the Jeeps within eight points of the Blackhawks with five minutes left in the game. Then junior guard Logan Dodd hit the Jeeps’ third 3-pointer of the quarter. The fans in blue and white went crazy, as suddenly Northeast Dubois was down only five points, 56-51, with 3:24 left to play.
But the rally fell short in the end. The shots dried up and the Jeeps sent Blackhawks players to the foul line over the final few minutes. Springs Valley hit their shots — he Blackhawks made 19 of their 20 free throws in the fourth quarter to grind out the victory and sectional title.
Harder had 15 points to lead the Jeeps, while Kerstiens and sophomore Reece Bauer had nine and eight points, respectively.
Carnes had 25 points to lead all scorers. The Blackhawks guard had three 3-pointers and made 10 straight free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. Whitaker put up 17 points, and Tow scored 11 points in the win.
Friedman said the Blackhawks had the hot hand on Saturday night, and the Jeeps just didn’t have the answers. They tried to make some assignment changes in their man-to-man defense to slow down Springs Valley in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the early deficit.
“We wanted to stay with our man (defense), so we switched a couple of our matchups at the start of the second half,” he said. “We had the right matchups, but their ball movement was really good tonight. We had our game plan set, but sometimes the best plans go awry. My hat’s off to Springs Valley, they deserved to win.”
But Friedman doesn’t want to get down on his boys. Even though the loss was tough, he’s proud of the work his boys put into the season. They won 13 regular-season games, including seven of their last 10 going into sectional.
Saturday’s loss stings, but Friedman tried to put the game in its proper perspective in the Jeeps’ season.
“I wouldn’t trade these kids we have for any in the world. I’ll take them every day of the week and twice on Sundays,” he said. “They come to practice and work their tails off. We wanted this sectional, but didn’t get it. We just have to move on. I’m proud of this team and what we did this season.”
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