TERRE HAUTE —
For the first three days of the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic, Terre Haute South made its way through the tournament’s lower bracket with high-pressure defense that led to fast breaks and points in bunches.
Monday night, the Braves proved they have a Plan B.
Despite the fact that host Terre Haute North got the half-court high school basketball game it wanted most of the way in the championship game, the Braves hung in there and were strongest at the end, dominating the fourth quarter for a 58-48 win and their first championship since 2007.
“We knew [the Patriots] were going to put up a fight,” South’s Conner Shipley said afterward. “We had to roll with the punches and come through at the end.”
“We’d been playing good defense and running up and down,” added teammate Timmy Herrin. “Tonight we couldn’t run, so we played smart and played good defense.”
“We knew we weren’t going to do everything we wanted,” coach Scott Ridge of the Braves noted. “Coach [Todd] Woelfle [of North] is too good a coach to let us do that.”
“We played a pretty good first half,” Woelfle agreed. “[South’s] press didn’t hurt us like it did some other people. But they made plays to win, and in the second half we got away from what we do well.”
A standing-room-only crowd and a raucous student section on each end of North’s gym made for an entertaining evening of basketball, and five ties and 11 lead changes in the first half kept both crowds energized.
North went ahead late in the first quarter when a basket by Keshaun Sandifer, two free throws by Andrew Farmer and a 3-pointer by Charlie Aimone — who picked up a loose ball and found himself open from 22 feet — gave the Patriots a 16-10 lead, and it grew to 21-14 early in the second quarter after a foul and technical foul gave North three free throws.
The Patriots weren’t able to take further advantage of the situation, however, because South’s Jerad Fuson stole the ball on the possession North earned with the technical foul and Herrin scored at the other end.
Herrin’s basket started a 7-0 South run that also included a 3-pointer by Shipley and a basket by LaMarkis Stevenson, and the score was tied. Neither team led by more than two points the rest of the half, which ended with North ahead 32-31 thanks to a basket by Braxton Poore and a free throw by Sandifer.
The lead changed hands three times in the first three minutes of the second half — two baskets by South’s Greg Newton around another by Poore — and play was so ragged in that span that whichever team lost was going to look back at it in frustration. On Monday, that frustration was felt by Woelfle and the Patriots.
“We totally lost our patience and composure, and that’s the most disappointing part of this,” Woelfle said after the game. “We did things we haven’t done all year.”
South was ahead by four when the 6-foot-6 Herrin stepped to the deep corner for a 3-pointer, but Farmer matched it for North. Baskets by Spence Tofaute and Newton had the Braves ahead by five — their biggest lead so far — and North seemed to be reeling, but Sandifer got a basket and Aimone a 3-pointer and the Patriots had pulled into a tie again at the end of the third quarter.
Shipley opened the fourth period with a 3-pointer, however, and South was ahead to stay. Brian Stevens hit a free throw for North, but Herrin got one free throw and Newton two and South was up 48-43. North had the ball with that five-point deficit, but Da’Shon Heyen stole it, and moments later Tre Minnett — a big-time scorer in South’s previous two wins but quiet on Monday — sank a dagger of a 3-pointer for an eight-point South lead.
“My shot wasn’t falling,” said the junior sixth man, who did have a game-high seven assists, “but I always like to have confidence in myself.”
That was pretty much the end for North, which was 2 for 14 from the field in the last eight minutes and shot just 30 percent for the game. Even though the Braves kept it interesting with a couple of turnovers and two missed free throws, North never got closer than five the rest of the way.
“It was a hard-fought game and it could have gone either way,” Ridge said. “In the end, our kids made a few more plays.”
Newton led the Braves with 15 points, while Shipley scored 12 and Herrin 10. Herrin and Newton, who may have benefitted most from the half-court structure of Monday’s game, had seven rebounds each.
“My teammates did a great job feeding me down low, and I was just turning around and finishing,” Newton said.
Aimone had a game-high 16 points for North and added seven rebounds, while Farmer scored 11 and Sandifer 10. Poore, who started when Woelfle went without a true post player, played like one anyway by grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.
North’s Austin Kurashima, the Patriots’ leading scorer in the previous two games, was hobbled by an early third-quarter injury, but South played the entire game without freshman sparkplug Jaylen Minnett, still suffering headaches after a collision under the basket in Saturday night’s game.
“[Not being able to play] upset him,” Jaylen’s older brother said, “but he didn’t want to further injure himself.”
“Depth is our biggest strength,” Ridge added, “so we can overcome [his absence] more than in previous years. We just had a couple guys play a few extra minutes.”
Herrin, Tre Minnett and Shipley were all-tournament selections from South, but the Most Outstanding Player Award went to Casey’s Brandon Wolfe.
“We got the award we wanted,” Ridge said, gesturing toward the trophy.
Now the Braves are on a six-game winning streak and looking forward to trying for more.
“We’re a solid team,” the coach said. “[The Braves are] unselfish, they work hard, they do what we ask — they’re fun to work with.”
“Everybody’s been down on us, so we wanted to prove everyone wrong,” Shipley said, “and we did that with our defense … we’re 10 players deep, and we took advantage of that during the tournament.”
“We know we are a good team,” Herrin added. “This tournament will be a good statement to get us going the rest of the season.”
“This gives us momentum,” Tre Minnett agreed. “Winning these last two tough games [over Sullivan and North] gives us an edge.”
“We knew the whole time we were going to win,” said Newton. “I love these guys more than anything; I would take these guys to war.”
Despite his disappointment over Monday’s second half, Woelfle noted that the Patriots had also made significant progress.
“I’m pleased with the way we played in this tournament,” he said. “We got better, and we’ll continue to get better the second half of the season.”
TERRE HAUTE NORTH (48) — Aimone 5-15 2-2 16, Sandier 4-10 2-4 10, Poore 2-6 1-2 5, Brown 0-5 0-0 0, Kurashima 2-7 0-0 4, Farmer 3-9 3-4 11, Riley 0-0 0-0 0, Stevens 0-1 1-2 1, Smith 0-1 1-2 1, Dennany 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-54 FG, 10-16 FT, 48 TP.
TERRE HAUTE SOUTH (58) — Newton 5-9 5-6 15, Tofaute 2-6 0-0 5, Herrin 4-10 1-2 10, Shipley 3-6 3-4 12, Stevenson 2-5 2-4 6, Fuson 0-0 0-0 0, T.Minnett 2-7 0-0 6, Heyen 2-4 0-0 4, Dinkel 0-0 0-0 0, Wallace 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-47 FG, 11-16 FT, 58 TP.
Terre Haute North 16 16 10 6 — 48
Terre Haute South 12 19 11 16 — 58
3-point shooting — THN 6-22 (Aimone 4-11, Farmer 2-6, Poore 0-1, Smith 0-1, Sandifer 0-3), THS 7-9 (Shipley 3-3, T.Minnett 2-4, Tofaute 1-1, Herrin 1-1). Total fouls — THN 17, THS 16. Fouled out — Farmer. Turnovers — THN 17, THS 14. Rebounds — THN 40 (Poore 10, Brown 8, Aimone 7), THS 36 (Newton 7, Herrin 7). Assists — THN 10 (Sandifer 3, Poore 3), THS 15 (T.Minnett 7). Steals — THN 11 (Aimone 2, Sandifer 2, Poore 2, Kurashima 2, Farmer 2), THS 10 (Herrin 3). Blocks — THN 4 (Aimone 2), THS 2 (Herrin, Heyen). Technical foul — Tofaute.
Next — Terre Haute South (6-2) plays at Lawrence North on Friday night. Terre Haute North (5-5) has a noon game Saturday at Indianapolis North Central.