The list of things Rockville did right on Saturday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse is a fairly extensive one, with defensive effort and hustle and determination fighting for spots at the top of it.
Shooting well won’t be found on that list, however. Despite any other sins the Rox may have committed, it was their shooting that enabled Loogootee to escape with a 55-52 win and the Indiana Class A boys high school basketball state championship.
“We’ve had a couple of games like that,” Joel Wittenmyer said after the game. “The rim got smaller and smaller. But once we hit a couple shots we got excited, and we had momentum at the end.”
Whether or not the 22-6 Rox had duplicated their shooting futility at other times this season — on Saturday they were at 18 percent after one quarter, 24 percent at halftime and finished with a paltry 33 percent — the rest of Wittenmyer’s statement is certainly true. And even though the Rox trailed 43-32 early in the fourth period and were still down 45-35 at the midpoint of the quarter, the game wasn’t over.
Coach Dave Mahurin of Rockville had said earlier in the week that the thing his team couldn’t afford to do was fall behind the Lions, who have been known — for more than 40 years now — for their ability to bleed the clock and strangle the life out of a game once they got the lead.
So when Loogootee hit five shots in a row in the first quarter, building leads of 10-4, then 15-7, then 19-9 with the first basket of the second period — it certainly didn’t appear to be Rockville’s day.
“We were very nervous early,” coach Mahurin said afterward. “It’s hard to dig that big a hole against that good a program ... the first half was brutal.”
“The first half we were playing pretty bad,” junior forward Lane Mahurin agreed. “I apologize [to my teammates], because I wasn’t sharing the ball a lot. It just didn’t go in today.”
Offense hasn’t really been the Rockville calling card all season, however, and as the second quarter got going the Rox defense started to take effect. Rather than running a smooth delay offense when the situation called for it, the Lions were often pressured into uncharacteristic mistakes. And that’s when the game got really frustrating for the Rox, because more often than not they couldn’t take advantage. Several times during the game a Rockville player would make a spectacular defensive play to get the ball back for his team, only to have a missed shot follow — including a blown open layup in the waning seconds of the first half.
That miss kept the Rox behind 23-15 at intermission, and Loogootee got the first basket of the third quarter. Although Rockville’s perimeter pressure was bothering the Lions, they got three inside baskets that period from 240-pound center Conner Wittmer — “Their big kid was a handful for us inside,” coach Mahurin admitted afterward — and seemed to be thwarting every Rockville comeback attempt. When the Rox went on a 6-3 run to get within 32-27 late in the quarter, the Lions closed out the period with a 7-3 spurt for a 39-30 advantage.
With outside shots not falling, however, the Rox worked on getting inside — and getting the Lions in foul trouble. From that 45-35 deficit, Rockville hit 5 of 8 free throws (Lane Mahurin 4 of 6, Wittenmyer 1 of 2) and got within 45-40.
Two free throws by Loogootee star Bryant Ackerman — from Wittenmyer’s fifth foul — made it a seven-point game, but Lane Mahurin scored inside. When Wittmer hit just 1 of 2 free throws, Rockville countered with a 3-pointer by Gary Ulrich that cut the lead to 48-45. After two free throws by Loogootee’s Matt Mathies, Cody Jeffries nailed a 3-pointer for the Rox — then ran down a long offensive rebound moments later, setting up a driving layup by Jordon McFall that tied the score 50-50 with 54 seconds left.
Rockville never got ahead, however. Two more Mathies free throws were countered by another inside basket by Lane Mahurin, but then the Lions broke the Rockville press for a layup. A missed 3-pointer by the Rox led to a defensive rebound and two free throws for Ackerman, and although he missed one to leave the door open with 4.3 seconds left, the Rox couldn’t hit the tying 3-point attempt.
“The only thing we can control is effort, and we played with effort ... the second half we were diving all over the place,” coach Mahurin said later. “We represented ourselves as well as we could; I can’t ask for more than what [the Rox] gave me.”
“We finally got over the nerves and started hitting,” Ulrich said.
“I think desperation was there for us,” his coach said. “We finally quit thinking about where we were ... we never ever shot it well, but we made some opportunity shots.”
Loogootee actually shot 56 percent from the field, 44 percent from 3-point range (including 3 of 4 in the crucial opening quarter) and 79 percent from the foul line. Wittmer, despite foul trouble, had 16 points while Ackerman had 15 plus 12 rebounds and six assists and Mathies scored 13.
Even though Rockville had a couple of silly, unforced turnovers, however, the Rox had just six for the game — none in the second half. And the Rox’ frenetic play forced the Lions into an un-Loogootee-like 19 errors. Lane Mahurin and Ulrich scored 14 points each for the Rox, McFall had 12 and Wittenmyer nine — and despite his apology, Lane Mahurin also had a team-high five assists in addition to leading his team in rebounds.
“The worst part of the day,” coach Mahurin noted, “is that it’s our seniors’ last game.”
Seated on the podium next to Jeffries, the coach said, “He is one of my favorites — ever. I don’t know how I’m going to have a practice without CJ. I may have to yell at him even if he’s not there.” Dave Mahurin also had high praise for Kyle and Matt Wheeler — the latter the Trester Award winner — and two more seniors, Nate Wake and Clint White, were lost to injuries earlier.
“This has been the best season of my life,” Jeffries said. “I never thought back in June [at the start of summer practice] that we’d be sitting here today. The fourth quarter I thought we were going to do it, and I hope these guys [juniors Ulrich and Lane Mahurin, seated next to him] get [the championship] next year.”
“This is our motivation for next year,” Ulrich said. “I know we’re going to work hard this summer.”
LOOGOOTEE (55) — Ackerman 3-11 9-11 15, Howell 1-1 0-0 2, Wittmer 7-10 1-2 16, Nelson 1-13 0-0 3, Mathies 3-4 5-6 13, Nonte 2-2 0-0 4, Matthews 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-32 FG, 15-19 FT, 55 TP.
ROCKVILLE (52) — Mahurin 3-12 8-10 14, Wittenmyer 3-7 3-5 9, McFall 5-9 1-1 12, Ulrich 4-13 3-4 14, Jeffries 1-7 0-0 3, K.Wheeler 0-1 0-0 0, Wilke 0-0 0-0 0, M.Wheeler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-49 FG, 15-20 FT, 52 TP.
Loogootee 17 6 16 16 — 55
Rockville 9 6 15 22 — 52
3-point shooting — Loogootee 4-9 (Mathies 2-3, Wittmer 1-2, Nelson 1-2, Ackerman 0-2), Rockville 5-25 (Ulrich 3-12, McFall 1-4, Jeffries 1-7, Mahurin 0-2). Total fouls — Loogootee 17, Rockville 18. Fouled out — Wittenmyer, McFall. Turnovers — Loogootee 19, Rockville 6. Rebounds — Loogootee 30 (Ackerman 12), Rockville 20 (Mahurin 6, Jeffries 5). Assists — Loogootee 12 (Ackerman 6), Rockville 10 (Mahurin 5, Jeffries 3). Steals — Loogootee 4 (Wittmer 2, Nonte 2), Rockville 10 (Mahurin 3, McFall 3, K.Wheeler 2). Blocks — Loogootee 0, Rockville 3 (Mahurin 2, Wittenmyer).
Records — Loogootee finished 22-4, Rockville 22-6.
AP All-Tournament Teams
Bryant Ackerman, Loogootee (MVP)
Conner Wittmer, Loogootee
Matt Mathies, Loogootee
Lane Mahurin, Rockville
Gary Ulrich, Rockville