Refurbished Jeeps well-prepared for rematch

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Northeast Dubois senior Chad Hoffman, right, who slapped hands with Bryce Huebner in a game last month, will help lead Northeast Dubois into Saturday’s Class 1A regional matchup with Barr-Reeve, which has topped the Jeeps in 17 of the last 19 meetings between the Blue Chip Conference rivals. Tipoff is set for approximately 12:30 p.m. at Loogootee, following the first semifinal between Orleans and Borden.

Herald Sports Editor

Northeast Dubois is a different team now than the Jeep group that fell to Barr-Reeve in December, the Jeeps insist.

That’s not surprising, because at tournament time, it’s the standard self-analysis for practically every team, from the prohibitive favorites to the cuddly underdogs. But when the Jeeps insist things have changed over the last few months, they’re not just empty words.

The Jeeps can list the proof — and see the differences. And that has them believing they can snipe an opponent that just one other team has solved all winter. Third-ranked Barr-Reeve (23-1) is the riddle Northeast Dubois (12-12) will try to solve at approximately 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Class 1A regional semifinals at Loogootee, and by their forensics, the Jeeps think they’re better equipped now to complete the task than they’ve been all year.

“We’re totally a different team than we were in December when we played them,” said Jeep senior Bryce Huebner, who stands nine points away from 1,000 for his career. “Over the last month and half, we’ve been playing probably our best basketball. We just have more confidence. We have a lot more confidence in each other, and that’s what the key’s going to be on Saturday.

“I definitely like our chances. We have a very good team right now, we’re all coming together. And at the right time.”

Jeep coach Terry Friedman offers three chief reasons why.

No. 1: Jace Terwiske sat out the first matchup in December against Barr-Reeve, a 72-55 loss.

The second-year starter, who’s endured a season of off-again, on-again court time, recently learned he’s playing with a partially torn ACL. But he returned to play all three games in the sectional. And with Terwiske in the fold, “he gives us a different dimension defensively and offensively, what Jace brings as far as ball movement and setup in our offense,” Friedman said.

“And we were much more fluid in the (sectional) with Jace out there.”

No. 2: The Jeeps’ ball movement on offense has livened, Friedman said.

Much of that occurred after Cameron Riecker’s job description changed. Wanting to profit from Riecker’s improved ballhandling and explosiveness off the dribble, Friedman reassigned the 6-foot-3 junior to become a floater as opposed to a true post man. As the Jeeps also worked to spread out their offense more, that left Riecker free to exploit mismatches on the perimeter and create for himself or for others; his three assists per game rank second on the team.

And finally, No. 3: The Jeeps now know how to switch it up more efficiently.

“We’ve become much more comfortable in switching defenses,” Friedman said. “With our guys kind of in and out of the lineup, we weren’t as good at switching in our defenses. We seem to have gotten a lot better now as far as communication on the defensive end, which has allowed us to switch our defenses more effectively.”

Friedman fully expects to toggle defensive schemes Saturday, namely to try to impede Addison Wagler (14.4 ppg), the 6-foot-4 sophomore who unloaded a career-high 31 points on Northeast Dubois in December. The Jeeps realize they can’t sleep on the other four guys on the floor, either.

Micah Bullock and Brandon Wagler have combined almost equally to bury 79 3-pointers. Huebner said the Vikings are “all good ballhandlers,” and Friedman added that shielding 6-foot-5 Jacob Bledsoe from the offensive glass is also a must.

This year’s Vikings have assembled the most successful season of any team in coach Bryan Hughes’ tenure. The 21st-year leader, who’s coached three state runner-up squads since 2002, didn’t go so far as to say this is his best team. But he did indicate it might be the most balanced, with any player possessing the capability to emerge with a hefty scoring night.

At the same time, Hughes paid deference to a Jeep team that owns some variety, too.

“They’re like any team that’s in the regional at this point: They’re on a roll. They’re probably playing their best basketball of the year, and Northeast Dubois will always put good athletes on the floor,” Hughes said. “They’re very athletic and they’ve got good quickness at all positions, and they’ve got (Huebner) who can shoot it deep, and then you’ve got to worry about some quickness in the post area.”

The Vikings surrender 37.3 point per contest — the third-best mark in the state — but Friedman derives encouragement from the fact the Jeeps have successfully navigated Barr-Reeve’s defense already. The 55 points they scored in December were the most any team has scored on the Vikings this year, matching the output that Class 3A No. 4 Brownstown Central produced.

“That doesn’t mean anything come Saturday, but I think it gives our kids confidence to know that if we take care of things and do some more things right, then we’ll certainly be in this game and give ourselves an opportunity to win,” Friedman said.

“They certainly have a tradition, but our kids know that we have a tradition, too. We’ve been successful three of the last five years in winning sectional tournaments. We’d like to take the next step.”

Friedman’s wary of the history factor in a face-off against a program like Barr-Reeve, which has won 17 of the last 19 meetings against the Jeeps. That’s why Monday’s practice might have been the most important of the week for the Jeeps.

They didn’t shoot a basketball that day. But the team members did gather to chat about the regional matchup and promised they won’t head to Loogootee as merely a starry-eyed participant. “We’re going over there with an approach we’re going to win,” Friedman said, and the Jeeps realize they’ll have to be at their best.

“It’s going to take a whole big effort, that’s what it’s going to take. Even plus the effort that we had (in the sectional),” Huebner said. “Which we do, we have it in us. I think we’ll be ready.”

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