Western boys basketball coach Andy Weaver watched with great interest as Northwestern and West Lafayette battled Wednesday in the Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional.
Western routed Peru 64-39 in Wednesday’s opener, leaving Weaver to scout a game between two familiar teams in preparation for tonight’s semifinal round.
“Obviously, Northwestern is our most intense local rival. And, then West Lafayette is a sectional rival. We’ve played them in eight of the last nine sectionals,” Weaver said. “We knew we going to get a rival [tonight]. And, we also knew we were going to get a good team. It was a very entertaining game and West Lafayette is the team we got.”
West Lafayette advanced by beating No. 9-ranked Northwestern 74-72 in a triple-OT thriller. Northwestern led 21-19 after the opening quarter, then the game settled into a typical sectional grind. The Tigers led 27-26 at halftime and 41-39 after three quarters. It was 58-all at the end of regulation.
“West Lafayette can become very defensive oriented and get stops. They’re built on defense,” Weaver said, noting the Red Devils’ defensive average is 48.1 points per game. “And they have some very good offensive parts to go with that.”
The Red Devils are led by 5-foot-11 senior guard Drake Danford, who had 27 points and eight assists against the Tigers.
“He is a guy who has a lot of arsenal to his offensive game,” Weaver said. “He can take the ball to the basket, he can penetrate and pull up and shoot jump shots in that 15- to 16-foot range and he can catch and shoot from deep.”
Western (17-5) and West Lafayette (16-6) know each other extremely well. In addition to their seemingly annual sectional clashes, they have met in the regular season every season since 2003-04.
Still, Weaver said the Red Devils are a difficult team for which to prepare.
“They’re always tweaking their sets and their offensive formations. They’re a team you constantly have to scout,” he said.
Western whipped West Lafayette 80-55 when the teams met in the regular season, on Jan. 7 at Western. The Panthers had one of their best shooting performances of the season, leading to a rare one-sided game between the rivals.
“It’s a situation where we played really well that first time … but that was a Saturday night game in January — this is the one that matters. Our guys know that, their guys know that. They’re a team we have very high respect for,” Weaver said.
“You do anticipate both teams to be sound defensively. It’s going to come down to possessions.”
Class 2A Tipton Sectional
Eastern (4-16) lost seven straight games to close out the regular season, but have found new life in the postseason with a clean slate and a first-round bye in sectional play.
“It does help that we get a full week to prepare,” Eastern coach Kyle Bedwell said. “It’s given us an opportunity to do some team-building things and get away. The pressure of the whole season is kind off now. The anxiety of who you’re going to play is finally over with, and we’ve really prepared hard the last few days. The excitement of tournament time, the one-and-done feeling that March Madness brings has reinvigorated the group and myself as well. It’s a long season, but that excitement is back.”
The Comets take on county-rival Taylor tonight in the nightcap of the semifinal round. The Titans are starting to find a comfortable rhythm at an opportune time after dealing with a rash of injuries earlier in the year. Tuesday night, they improved to 9-13 for the year with a 69-50 win over Elwood in the opening round of sectional play.
“We felt like some things came together pretty well Tuesday night, and we hope to continue to build upon that and come out and put forth a solid effort [tonight],” Taylor coach Andy Lewman said. “One of our goals throughout the season is to improve each and every time we take the floor, and I feel the kids have done a good job of that, with guys stepping into roles that they may not have necessarily seen themselves in when the season started. Offensively, we’ve had some things really start to fall into place in the last week and a half that have been pretty good. We’ve started to get a better flow on offense and the kids have done a great job of execution.”
Taylor went 8 of 14 from 3-point range in the rout of Elwood, something Bedwell and the Comets are very wary of. Bedwell added that the sharp perimeter shooting starts with point guard Justin Wheeler’s ability to distribute. He dishes out 5.2 assists per game to go with 9.4 ppg.
“We have to stop Wheeler. He’s so good on the dribble drive, being able to create things. He may not put it in all the time on his own, but he does a great job of creating and making the players around him better,” Bedwell said. “It’s hard to simulate it when we don’t have someone exactly like him in practice. They have great outside shooters. They shot lights out from the 3-point line in that 18-2 run with [Challen] Hodson and [Nathan] Gotshall. Taylor has many weapons on the perimeter, and we want to be able to close out on each of those.”
Hodson leads the Titans at 11 ppg, while Damon Stanley added 10.1 ppg and 5.4 boards per game. Gotshall adds even more scoring depth at 9.3 ppg.
Taylor pulled out a 68-63 overtime win over Eastern during the regular season on Jan. 13 in Greentown. The confidence boost from the road victory is still fairly fresh on the minds of the Titans.
“The ability to go to their place and be in a position to pull out a close game is a big deal for us, because it happened on their home floor,” Lewman said. “One of the keys for us is to try to keep them off the glass. If memory serves me correctly, they had 14 offensive rebounds when we played them the first time. So, that’s been one of the focal points we’ve talked about while preparing for things this week. We have to be better about taking care of things on the glass and being accountable regarding where guys are at defensively.”
Eastern is led by senior post Josiah Price, who has averaged 22.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest this season.
• In Friday’s other semifinal, host and No. 7-ranked Tipton (20-3) will take on Alexandria (10-11). The Blue Devils and Tigers will kick off the night at 6 p.m., with the Taylor-Eastern matchup to follow. Tipton defeated Madison-Grant 81-62 in Tuesday’s opening round to carry a six-game winning streak into tonight. Alex snapped a four-game losing streak with a 65-48 win over Wes-Del in its regular season finale.
Around the area
• At the Class 2A sectional at Manchester, Cass (10-11) and Wabash (10-11) will meet in the second semifinal. Cass beat the Apaches 68-58 in the regular season.
• At the Class A sectional at Tri-Central, the host Trojans (9-12) will take on Frontier (4-17) in the second semifinal.