Tipton sophomore Mason Degenkolb scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half as the Blue Devils withstood a late Central Catholic to edge the Knights, 54-51, in a battle of state-ranked teams at McHale Gymnasium Friday night.
It was the Hoosier Conference opener for both teams. Tipton, ranked No. 11 in Class 2A, seemed poised to run away with the game early, building a double-digit lead in the first quarter and taking a 29-17 lead into halftime.
The Knights, ranked No. 4 in Class A, charged back, outscoring the Blue Devils 19-11 in the third quarter to get back into the game.
“These guys are a good team, they know what to do at home and they shoot so well,” Tipton coach Brad Dickey said. “They had a clear size advantage, but by getting some confidence and getting ahead in the beginning, it helped our guys neutralize some of their strengths.”
After falling behind by as many as 14 points in the first half, the Knights clawed their way back to take a 50-49 lead after two Mitch Witteveen free throws with 2:01 left in the game.
That lead lasted all of 16 seconds, as Degenkolb threw a perfect entry pass to forward Nate Friend down low for a layup to put Tipton up again. Friend finished the game with 15 points, 11 in the second half.
Central Catholic turned the ball over on the following possession and Degenkolb knocked down two free throws to give the Blue Devils extra breathing room.
“We didn’t make a play late and they did,” Central Catholic coach Dave Barrett said. “We were better the second half, but that was because we turned up the intensity and got some steals to get back in the game. When you have to spend that much energy to get back into it, you fall short late, and that’s what happened tonight.”
Pete Metzinger scored 15 points for the Knights while Jackson Anthrop came off the bench to add 11 more before fouling out.
But it was a long haul for Central Catholic, who went 3 for 11 from the field in the first quarter while turning the ball back over to Tipton seven times. The Blue Devils, in the meantime, made six of their first nine shots over the first four minutes of the game to grab a 15-5 lead before settling for a 17-7 edge at the end of the quarter.
“In the first half, we were bad. I mean flat out bad,” Barrett said bluntly. “Offensively, it was the worst I’ve seen in a long time. We just didn’t play well as a team. We had a lot of out-of-control, forced shots. We didn’t look to get our bigs the ball at all. When we did, they didn’t do anything with it.”
Barrett said the contest went along with a constant theme for the Knights this season — struggling early before finding enough consistency to rally.
“We were one play short tonight,” Barrett said. “When we finally got the lead, it didn’t take long for them to get it back, and our momentum just died. We’ve been behind every game but one this season. I’m going to shake up the lineup Saturday (against Rensselaer). We haven’t had a good start all year, so I’m going to see what happens.”