By Josh Sigler
TIPTON — The Indiana high school boys basketball postseason is all about surviving to play another day.
In the Class 2A Tipton Sectional opening round Tuesday night, the host and No. 2-ranked Blue Devils and Alexandria did just that, advancing to Friday’s semifinal round after wins over Elwood and Eastern, respectively.
Tipton overcame a sluggish start with key help from several role players in a 75-49 victory over rival Elwood in the second game after Alexandria erased an early nine-point deficit to edge Eastern 64-62. Tipton will play Taylor in Friday’s semifinal round and Alex will face Madison-Grant.
Tipton 75, Elwood 49
The Blue Devils found themselves deadlocked at 17-17 after the first stop, but outscored the Panthers 25-12 in the second stanza to take a 42-29 lead into halftime.
“We weren’t as sharp defensively and Elwood converted,” Tipton coach Brad Dickey said. “They did a great job there at the start of the game. We don’t want to sit and wait around while teams are doing a great job of running plays. We want to find ways to disrupt the opponent, and we weren’t able to do that early on.”
Senior Mike Crawford led Tipton (21-2) with 19 points in the win to move within 31 points of 2,000 career points, but the defending sectional champions received key contributions from several other players.
Point guard Blake Hoover added 15 points and five rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting from the field, forward Nate Friend finished with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting, and freshmen reserve Mason Degenkolb chipped in 11 points off the bench on 5-of-7 firing.
Starter Austin Hooker added nine points and five rebounds to a well-balanced Tipton attack.
“Mason gave us a great spark,” Dickey said. “Tanner Maxey did a great job defensively and gave us a basket or two, as well. Brody Dell got good minutes. That was absolutely the turning point in this game, those three guys off the bench. They just found ways to participate and have fun in an exciting game. Hopefully [Tuesday] night was really helpful [looking towards Friday’s semifinal game]. It helped us [Tuesday] night, and that’s step one. We’ll see. Maybe we’ll get steadier play out of our starters in the next one and we won’t need them, but it’s nice to know those guys were ready and alert and played hard [Tuesday] night.”
Tipton celebrated its ninth straight win over Elwood and improved to 88-13 over its last 101 games.
Jarred Bourff led Elwood (11-11) with 16 points and five rebounds. The Panthers were the only other team in the Tipton Sectional that did not enter the postseason with a losing record.
Alexandria 64, Eastern 62
The Comets held a 21-12 lead after the first stop, but Alex reeled them in little by little, catching up by the middle of the third quarter.
Eastern (3-18) battled back to take a 62-58 lead with 2:08 to play but came up empty handed in back-to-back possessions, allowing the Tigers to pull even at 62-62 with 1:02 to play.
Eastern was again unable to generate anything offensively on the return trip down the floor. Alexandria called for timeout with 38.6 seconds to play, and after having nothing develop in its offensive set out of the timeout, signaled for time once again with 12.6 seconds to play.
Out of the second timeout, senior Landon Breese drove across the lane and dropped in a hook shot with three seconds to play.
Eastern took possession with 2.3 seconds left out of a timeout and was fouled at mid-court with 0.7 seconds to play. The Comets were never able to get a clean look at the basket, marking the 10th time this season they lost a contest by seven points or fewer.
“It’s frustration,” Eastern coach Kyle Bedwell said. “I feel it’s the epitome of the season. Several of our games have ended close without us being able to get over the top. We had the ball with a minute to go [with a 62-60 lead] and I wanted us to hold the ball. We thought we saw some openings, but we gave [Alexandria] more chances. .. I hate to see it end for the seniors.”
Alexandria (5-17) got back in the game with fiery long-range shooting. The Tigers scored their first 21 points of the second half on seven 3-pointers, the last of which came from Blaize Kelley in the corner, giving Alex a 51-48 lead with 7:30 to play.
“We’re glad to come out of here with a victory,” Alex coach Chad Wetz said. “We shoot 3s specifically from good passing. I don’t like shooting 3s in transition and I don’t like shooting 3s off the dribble. What I liked about those shots was the guy who created it was putting the pass right in the shooter’s pocket. All the shooter had to do is catch and shoot.”
Josiah Marx led the Comets with 25 points and six rebounds in his final game. Braden Gibson added nine points, but was held scoreless after a first quarter in which he hit three treys. Grant Cole, Will Porter and Brady Zirkle all added eight points for Eastern.
Breese led Alex with 21 points and five rebounds. Kellley added 13 points, while Corl Allen finished with 12.
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