Rams undermine Jasper’s 'big steps’

Herald Sports Editor

PAOLI — Saturday was generally fulfilling for Jasper’s boys basketball team — albeit only in the way that a junk food binge is satisfying.

Challenging unbeaten Paoli practically shot for shot on its home floor, the Wildcats sampled some of the progress they’ve been waiting for. Jasper coach John Goebel has implored his players to get a little meaner against the opponent and more bonded among themselves. Goebel viewed that as mission accomplished, too.

But while many of the in-game improvements hit all the pleasure centers, an air of defeat and regret lingered afterward.


Jasper stomached a 62-61 setback, a defeat that was a dichotomy of how the Cats grew up and how they regretted one of those games that got away. In the first meeting between the squads since 1978, the Cats came from 57-52 down to knot the game in the fourth quarter, then later leveled things at 59 and 61 before Austin Moore buried the winning free throw with 3.8 seconds to play.

“Even though we didn’t win the game tonight, we took a lot of big steps forward,” Goebel said. “I think our defensive intensity was great, we finally showed emotion like we cared about each other and we had some fight in us. Losing is painful, but it’s easier to deal with when you gave it everything you did.”

For 28:31 of the game’s 32 minutes, neither team led by more than a one-possession margin. But Paoli (7-0) managed some separation in a spell that linked the last minute of the third quarter to the first couple minutes of the fourth.

In that spell, the Cats missed four of five free throws, committed three turnovers and were slapped with a technical foul in anger over a foul call; the Rams drilled 4-of-4 free throws in that sequence.

“We made some key mistakes down the stretch ... so we’re going to look back and realize we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” Goebel said.

Goebel also rued Paoli’s trio of go-ahead sequences on their final three possessions. The Rams sat on the ball for almost a minute or more each time and waited for defensive breakdowns, netting a back-door lob and another slip to the bucket, and Paoli executed another deep pass under the bucket in the waning moments, resulting in Moore being bumped and earning free throws.

He drilled the first, and when his second try bounced off the rim, Jasper had a glimmer of a chance. In two passes, the Cats advanced the ball up to the left wing but the second delivery sailed behind T.D. Nottingham, who couldn’t control the ball as time expired.

“That would have been a tough play to come up with there, with no timeouts left and run a play, especially off a missed free throw,” said Nottingham, who totaled 10 points, four assists and two steals. “We pretty much did the only thing we could do, which was push it up the court and get a quick shot.”

By now, it’s no longer a surprise that Nottingham, a freshman, is one of the lead characters when it gets to crunch time.

Saturday, he was one of two Cats to ink a career-high scoring mark; Courtland Betz joined the category with 19. Nottingham has burrowed into the starting five thanks to his defense, as Goebel calls him the team’s best on-ball defender. He absorbed some lessons matched up against Paoli’s Skyler Stroud, who pumped in 23 points, but Stroud nailed his share of contested shots as Nottingham did the same.

The 5-foot-7 guard finished 5-of-5 from the floor, with four of the baskets coming on forays into the paint challenging defenders who had 6 inches or more on him. And after the Cats forced a 59-all tie when Austin Alles scored the last of his 15 points on a putback, Nottingham coolly slithered in for a bucket on Jasper’s next possession to knot the game at 61 with 1:12 remaining.

Nottingham hadn’t broken out yet, averaging a modest 4.4 points per contest this season. He considered Saturday’s output merely a case of following orders.

“At the very beginning of the game when I threw it to the other team to start off, Coach kind of got on me to take the ball to the hole and get around my guy,” Nottingham said with a wry smile.

“I tried to be a little more aggressive going to the bucket this game, tried not to pass up some shots and tried to take it to the hole.”

He applied the feistiness throughout, twice ripping the ball away from Paoli in helter-skelter sequences where the Cats grabbed a steal and Rams swiped it back, only to have Nottingham ultimately end up with it each time.

Goebel said Nottingham “took a big step forward tonight.” And in a one-point finish, Goebel illustrated that experience was among the chief differences. Paoli sports eight seniors. Jasper features four first-time starters. This Friday’s collision at home versus Vincennes Lincoln (8-1, 3-0 Big Eight Conference) brings the Cats closer to the stage of the season when Goebel’s set of expectations and demands of his green group begins to change.

“It takes time. It takes experience, and the only way to gain experience is to play games. Now we’re six games into it,” Goebel said. “You’d like to think by that 10th game, you’re starting to figure things out and starting to get to the top of the hill.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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