Steady defense remains key for Wildcats


Herald File Photo by Traci Westcott / In this file photo, Jasper's Quentin Harmon and Reece Milligan pressure Evansville North's Adam Bury into a tough shot with their stellar defense. Jasper's defense has been impressive all season as they've only allowed two opponents to score 60 points — the Wildcats will search to use that effort on the defensive side of the ball this Saturday against Center Grove at the Seymour regional. 


JASPER — Since last Saturday’s win in the sectional championship game, life has been just a bit sweeter for the guys on the Jasper boys basketball team. Feelings of affirmation and confidence are high among the players and coach John Goebel said even the air around the school has been different since the Wildcats (16-9) came back from Evansville as the conquering heroes.

“Winning breeds good feelings, so everyone has been positive,” Goebel said. “The atmosphere in the school has really been affected by it, everybody is upbeat and energetic. The players are proud and excited.”

In the same breath, however, Goebel also said that the boys still feel as if they are on a mission as they look ahead to Saturday morning when they travel to Seymour to play the Center Grove Trojans (19-8) to open the regional round.

The Trojans present a tall task for the Wildcats and his name is Trayce Jackson-Davis. The senior forward/center, who committed to Indiana University this past fall, stands at 6-foot-9, averages 21.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, and is coming off a sectional final game where he scored 25 of the Trojans’ 29 points. Yes, there will be four other guys on the court but the main focus will be on Jackson-Davis.

“We have to stop Trayce Jackson-Davis,” said senior forward Phillip Noblitt. “If we stop him that would be our best shot. It’s not going to be easy.”

“They have a pretty good player,” added senior guard Reece Milligan. “We need to try and slow him down a little bit. You’re not going to shut him out, we just have to slow down his production.”

Outside of Jackson-Davis, the Trojans average a shade under 57 points a game and have scored over 60 in 11 games during the season. But Jasper is not without hope.

Defense has been the Wildcat’s calling card all year, allowing only 49 points per game. While Jackson-Davis will be the most dynamic individual the Wildcats have faced all year, they are no stranger to playing teams that can score in a hurry; they are 11-6 on the year when they have played teams that averaged over 56 points per game.

As a further testament to the players’ commitment on the defensive end, the Wildcats have been able to hold their opponents to less than 50 points ten times during the season, which includes their run through sectional, and have gone 8-2 in those circumstances. Since the start of the postseason, the focus and grit on the defensive end for the Wildcats has taken the appropriate step up whenever the team has needed it.

“The execution has been the same but the intensity has been better,” said Goebel. “We’ve been good defenders all year, but there have been times where we’re not zeroed in like we needed to be. But when you get into tournament time, you win or you go home. Our seniors have done a nice job of making sure everyone is focused, playing, and defending with energy. Sometimes you can have the best of intentions, but if you don’t do it with heart it’s not going to work.”

The team figured out early that a heavy, intensive effort towards stopping other teams would be one of their main ingredients when it came to cooking during the year. They were aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each player that came out, and figured that despite their limitations, if they could come together as a collective unit and stop other teams that would be the element that gave them a fighting chance night in and night out.

“We know we’re not the biggest team, so we know defense wins games. That’s what we figured out in the beginning of the year,” said senior guard Josh Weidenbenner. “We have to help each other out. Defense isn’t just you guarding one person, you have to help out your other teammates. Whenever we come together is when we play our best defense.”

Basketball is a game about getting buckets, but it’s just as important for a team to be able to stop their opponents from reaching the rim, whether that means packing it in or fanning out to the perimeter.

The Wildcats have done their share of both as they’ve made their way to regional and they don’t see that changing anytime soon. They trust that the shots will come as they put the stops together; to abandon the principles that got them here, such as guarding the ball and rotating as needed, would be to betray their identity as a basketball team — and it’s too late in the season to do such a thing.

“We just need to limit their shots in the paint and rebounding is going to be key. (We have to) play to our strengths and make them take the shots we want them to take.” said senior forward Jared Englert. “If we come out and accept the challenge of the regional, we have a chance to win.”

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