With push and shove, Jeeps net result

Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Northeast Dubois’ Tyler Haas leapt against Southridge’s Chad O’Bryan during the opening tipoff of Saturday’s tussle in Dubois. The Jeeps sprang for a double-digit lead in the first quarter before escaping with a 59-57 victory when Southridge missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

DUBOIS — They pushed, they shoved, they ruffled one another’s hair. All before the Northeast Dubois starters were introduced.

Entering Saturday night, the Jeep boys basketball team was slumping, having lost eight of its previous nine outings. And players agreed that in several of those ballgames, the group’s intensity seemed inadequate.

The pregame intrasquad melee, with players bouncing around the huddle to give a bump, a tug or a quick hair repositioning, served a basic purpose: ignite the fire. And throughout their 59-57 outlasting of Southridge, production emanated from that passion for the host Jeeps.

“Intensity,” Jeep center Eric Dodson underlined as the unit’s focus. “We just kind of lacked it at the beginning of the season — I know I did. And that’s what we had to focus on to get on the right track.”

There’s perhaps no descriptor more suitable than intense for Saturday night’s collision, which saw the Raiders grind their way back from an early 12-point deficit and nearly climb out of a seven-point hole in the final 23 seconds before Connor Craig’s 3-point attempt drew back iron as the final buzzer sounded. Meanwhile, the Jeeps stormed out of the gate and never faded, even when Southridge mounted a 13-0 charge to retake the lead late in the third quarter.

The correlation is simple: When the drive doesn’t dissolve, the potential will always be there.

“When everybody is fired up, everybody is talking, we just play like a different team,” Dodson said.

The Jeeps’ strategy was anchored in that same spirited sentiment.

They attacked the basket and wasted little time doing so, funneling the ball inside to forward Tyler Haas, who tallied nine of his game-high 21 points in the first quarter. Defensively, Northeast Dubois amped up the pressure in similar fashion, with Haas and Dodson each rejecting three shots and the Raiders coughing the ball up seven times in the opening period alone, equaling their turnover total from Friday’s loss to Tecumseh.

While the Jeeps’ size inside had much to do with Southridge’s 34-percent shooting from the field (19-of-56), part of the attacking inefficiency was self-inflicted in a sense, Raider coach Jeremy Rauch said.

“They’re a tough matchup,” Rauch said. “I mean, man, they’ve got some big guys, they’ve got some athletes, and we weren’t very smart about it. We didn’t do a lot of shot-faking, we didn’t try to go around people, we tried to go over the top and through people and that didn’t really work out very well.”

While Jeep coach Terry Friedman lauded the interior work from Dodson (seven rebounds, two steals), who’s “starting to play like the big man we knew he was capable of being,” the all-around work by Jacob Gress (12 points, five rebounds, three assists) and the contributions of reserves Tristan Linne and Luke Kerstiens, he hailed the work by his senior unit above all.

Gage Knies augmented a sturdy defensive outing with two 3-pointers, Cameron Riecker amassed a patient 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including the Jeeps’ first four points of the fourth quarter, and Haas fused his fifth outing of 20 or more points this season with seven boards, the three swats and a steal. Together, the bunch “showed a lot of leadership out there in terms of setting the tone of the game,” Friedman said.

Despite the loss, Rauch complimented the resilience of his squad, which had five players register at least eight points as Cody Thompson (12 points) Evan Julian (10), Chad O’Bryan (nine), Henry Steckler (nine) and Craig (eight) each played a factor.

“I am proud of the guys for battling, for digging a hole early — well, not for digging the hole but for battling out of it and taking the step forward and learning how to dig in a little bit deeper and play a little bit tougher and play a little bit harder,” Rauch said.

“We’re moving in the right direction.”

The Jeeps feel the same.

Well aware of the parallels between the start of this season and last, during which Northeast Dubois limped to a 3-9 record before swiping wins in nine of its next 12 games, Dodson pointed to Saturday’ victory as this squad’s moment of redirect.

“There was a turning point last year, and we needed a turning point this year,” Dodson said. “I think this is going to be that game.”

What a game it was.

From the time Julian sank a pair of free throws to bring the Raiders within 46-42 with 3:17 to play until Steckler dialed in two more free throws off one of Southridge’s 16 offensive rebounds to cut the Jeeps’ lead to 59-54 with 22 seconds left, the two squads traded points on 12 of 13 possessions.

Gress reeled in a nearly full-court pass for a deuce against Southridge’s full-court pressure with 2:14 remaining. The next possession, Thompson drew the Raiders’ second offensive board of the possession and hit both foul shots. Then Gress drove the lane for a score. Chad O’Bryan followed with a 3 while falling to the floor. Yet all the while, the Jeeps maintained the advantage. And after Craig’s bid for his second 3 in as many possessions ricocheted off the rim as time expired, it was the home squad’s for good.

“I don’t know that you can find Indiana high school basketball much better than tonight’s game, back and forth, the way the kids really fought tooth and nail out there,” Friedman said.

Contact Joe Jasinski

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