The boys basketball teams at West Lafayette and Western have established a familiar March tradition.
To win a sectional title, one team almost surely has to get through the other. In four straight seasons and nine of the last 10, the teams have ended each other’s season, including three sectional final matchups.
Western beat the Red Devils in seven of those sectionals. So despite a regular-season victory over the Panthers, West Lafayette knows it can’t overlook Western in tonight’s Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional semifinals.
“Our success against them early in the season doesn’t matter much,” West Lafayette senior Caleb Shinn said. “They’re Western. Come sectional time, they’re always ready to go.”
West Lafayette beat Western 65-52 at Berberian Gymnasium on Jan. 5, with Shinn (19 points, five assists), Nai Carlisle (18 points) and Brian Bangs (14 points, 22 rebounds) leading the way.
Evan Warden scored 20 for the Panthers that night, and Des Balentine added 12 on 5 of 9 shooting. They combine to average 26 points per night.
“They’ve got two very, very good guards,” coach Dave Wood said. “(Ronnie) Smith inside does good work. We’re going to have to handle their zone better than we handled a zone (Wednesday), frankly.”
In the other semifinal, Benton Central expected to see Hoosier Conference rival Twin Lakes after drawing the bye. But instead the Bison get Maconaquah, which upended the host Indians in Tuesday’s tournament opener.
Benton Central can draw on its experiences against West Lafayette 6-foot-8 senior Justus Stanback and McCutcheon 6-7 junior Trevor Lockwood when defending 6-10 Braves center Micah Pier.
“Their whole offense runs through that kid,” BC coach Kyle Marlatt said. “We have to be aware of where he is and make sure we box him out.”
Two weeks ago, Southmont’s Devon Burton poured in 34 points in a losing effort against Frankfort. Yet Hot Dogs coach Tom Weeks is worried about more than just the Mounties’ talented junior in tonight’s rematch.
Cody Thomas and Drake Cooksey combine for 27.2 points per game and are both capable outside shooters.
“Everybody has got to do their job and be ready and not have any breakdowns,” Week said. “The key is making them take tough shots.”
Frankfort’s Brody Kirby scored 26 to lead three players in double figures in the previous game against Southmont. Both teams are likely playing for a sectional championship rematch with Sagamore Conference champion Lebanon.
At Kankakee Valley
Rensselaer gets another shot at Class 3A No. 3 Andrean in tonight’s semifinals. The Fighting 59ers won 84-36 on Jan. 4.
For the fourth time in five years, Carroll and Fountain Central meet in sectional play.
The Mustangs must contend with a tall Carroll squad which rebounds well and knows how to clog up the middle. Senior forward Eric Miller leads four Cougars standing 6-5 or taller.
“Scoring against their 2-3 and their 1-3-1 will be a challenge,” Fountain Central coach Jason Good said. “We have to take care of the ball. We’re not used to playing people that big. A lot of times it looks like they’re beat but they do a good job of getting back and making the block and things like that.”
On the other side, the Cougars will try to slow down a Fountain Central offense that averages more than 60 points per night. Ethan Woodrow’s 17 points lead four Mustangs in double figures.
“I think we definitely have to control the tempo,” Carroll coach Matt Weaver said. “The (Luke) Davenport kid is really good in the open court. He can push it coast to coast himself and looks up and hits the wing really well.”
In the other semifinal, Delphi faces Clinton Central for the second time in 10 days. Cole Murray hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points in a 92-44 victory on Feb. 19.
Faith Christian’s state tournament history begins tonight with a Class A sectional semifinal against 11-time defending champion Central Catholic. Eagles coach Clayton Callan believes his team played better down the stretch following its 69-30 loss to CC on Jan. 15.
“We shot it a lot better earlier this week, and we’re spreading our scoring and not depending on one guy to get hot,” Callan said last week. “Offensively the guys are understanding the game plan each night a little bit better and executing it a little bit better.”
Central Catholic gets an average of 10 points and eight rebounds per night from its four-man rotation of post players. In Tuesday’s sectional victory over Frontier it was 6-6 junior center Nick Thompson who came up big with nine points.
“He’s long on the defensive end and does a nice job in the post,” CC coach Dave Barrett said. “Guys can throw over the top to him. Nick found a way the other night to get in position and Andrew (Hubertz) found him a couple of times for an easy basket.”
Clinton Prairie, which fell to Tri-Central 66-61 two weeks ago, gets a rematch in the other semifinal. Freshman Kale Morris (11.8 points, 42.4 percent 3-point shooting) has stepped up to help veteran starters Austin Martin and Ryan Walker.
“The one thing you worry about as a freshman is if he’s able to hold up physically,” Gophers coach Eric Ulrich said. “But he’s really done a great job and I certainly think when his career is over he’ll be a pretty special player to come through Clinton Prairie.”