While it has been tested in spots, Tipton’s boys basketball team has been seen as the favorite in each of its IHSAA Class 2A state tournament games, a five-game stretch where the Blue Devils have won by an average of 22.2 points per game.
The game is about to change. And more than likely, it’s going to change dramatically.
The veteran Blue Devils today will take their show on the road for the first time this postseason, where they’ll meet powerhouse Bowman Academy of Gary in the Lafayette Jeff Semistate, an Eagles club that boasts three NCAA Division I commits in its starting lineup. The winner will advance to the state finals.
Though the task will be tall — literally — Tipton is trying to soak in the unique experience of returning to the semistate for the second straight year, a first for the program.
“It’s fun that some people that don’t normally follow us are trying to get behind us right now,” Blue Devils coach Brad Dickey said. “Obviously, it’d be an incredible accomplishment, so that makes it sort of exciting. We’re up against it right now. We have a tough opponent.
“Survival. It’s absolutely going to be a game of surviving spots against a long, tall, trapping opponent.”
No. 5-ranked Bowman (16-8) is in its first season in Class 2A. The Ball State charter school, which is in its fourth year in the IHSAA, claimed a Class A state title in 2010. The Eagles play a schedule that includes six out-of-state teams, all from the Chicago and Detroit areas. Their four in-state losses have come to 4A powers in Indianapolis North Central, Warren Central, Hamilton Southeastern and Lawrence North. Bowman defeated its lone 2A opponent, Fort Wayne Luers, 101-74 on Jan. 28.
“I think we’ve had a pretty good season,” said Bowman coach Marvin Rea, who was a walk-on at Purdue in the early 1990s. “We’ve gotten some of our guys back from injuries. We’ve played the whole year with different starting lineups. I think our schedule is pretty tough, which prepares us for the postseason. We’re excited, but we’re just trying to take it one game at a time.”
Bowman is led by DePaul recruit DeJuan Marrero, a 6-foot-5 senior wing who enters semistate play averaging 18.3 point and 13 rebounds per outing. Fellow senior wing Elijah Ray, at 6-6, has signed to play at IUPUI and averages 14.7 points and 7 rebounds, while 6-10 senior post Stephan Hawkins, a Robert Morris commit, adds 11.2 points and eight boards. Sophomore forward Justin King (6-6, 8.2 ppg) and senior guards Mike Ford (6-4, 7.1 ppg) and Carlos McCormick (5-10, 11.8 ppg, 3 steals) add deadly options as well, leaving Tipton with its hands full defensively. Bowman averages 74.8 ppg as team, which ranks No. 1 in 2A and fourth overall in the state.
“We just have such a difficult opponent in front of us that we’re going to have to accomplish some athletic feats so that we can be close enough in the game to use our experience,” Dickey said. His team’s defense has been stingy, yielding 47.5 ppg, which is 14th best in 2A this season.
“Their depth is remarkable. Their size, strength and skill level are all just off the charts. If there is any way we can duck under them and survive our ball handling challenges, we’ll try to execute plays and put some points on the board.”
Seventh-ranked Tipton (24-3) will combat with depth and balance. Six-five junior forward Mike Crawford, who recently picked up his first D-I offer from Stetson, leads the attack with a 22.7-ppg clip, while his 6.4 rebounds ranks second on the team behind 6-5 senior wing Brady Dolezal (6.7). Dolezal ranks second on the team in scoring at 12.3 ppg. Junior guards James Altherr (7.3 ppg) and Blake Hoover (6.7 ppg) add viable threats off the bench. All received valuable playing time in Tipton’s run to the semistate a season ago.
“I think it’s going to be interesting. One thing they bring to the table is a lot of experience,” Rea said. “They’ve played 90-plus games together, and chemistry is important. I think they have a plus in that category. But, we’re going to come in and try to win a ballgame. We have to do what we do, and try to match their experience and enthusiasm and see if we can’t pull one out.”
The game will feature a stark contrast of styles. Bowman thrives in an up-tempo atmosphere, indicative of their lofty scoring average. Tipton, on the other hand, hasn’t been afraid to milk major chunks of time off the clock this season with a dizzying array of passes. With the discrepancy in size between the two clubs, Dickey isn’t confident in his team’s preferred tempo winning.
“That would be great, but I just don’t think [we] can do that,” he said. “They refuse to let you stand and hold the ball, so I suspect that our kids are going to have to attack the rim more. This thing could play out in the 80s, we don’t know.”
The Class A North semistate will kick off the day’s festivities at Lafayette Jeff’s Marion L. Crawley Athletic Center, where Fort Wayne Canterbury (19-6) will face Rockville (21-5) at 1 p.m. Tipton and Bowman will follow in the nightcap, which will not start any earlier than 3:45 p.m. WHMB-TV (ch. 40) will carry both games live.
In the Class 2A South Semistate, top-ranked Park Tudor (23-2) will face Providence (22-3) at Southport High School at 6:15 p.m.