TERRE HAUTE —
Conventional wisdom wasn’t much good from a prediction standpoint Monday night at Terre Haute South, where Rockville held off Robinson 44-39 in boys high school basketball for the championship of the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic.
The unbeaten Rox bolted to a big lead early by dominating the backboards, the area where conventional wisdom said the stronger, bulkier Maroons would rule, and Robinson showed its defensive chops to get back into the game, although Rockville entered the contest with the better defensive reputation.
But Rockville never completely buckled under the Robinson pressure — spreading the court, controlling the tempo, shooting the occasional layup and protecting its lead for dear life.
“It was a tough game,” said Rockville star Lane Mahurin afterward. “Both coaches had extremely good game plans, and both teams were well poised and very good sports, I thought … I’m happy for my dad [Rockville coach Dave Mahurin]; after years of coaching, we finally got him a championship.”
The Rox couldn’t have played much better than they did for the first six minutes of the game, and the key was a recent re-addition to the Rockville starting lineup.
Senior Joel Wittenmyer, unavailable for Rockville’s first several games, got offensive rebounds to set up Rockville’s first three baskets — scoring two, assisting on the third — and before the quarter was over he had six points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists. That was four more rebounds than the Maroons had at that point.
“Probably the best quarter I’ve ever had,” Wittenmyer said later.
“We talked about how important rebounding would be, and about stopping [Robinson’s] leading scorer [Aaron Siler], and I thought we did a good job at both,” coach Mahurin said. “When Wittenmyer starts, we put him in the post because other teams usually guard him with a smaller player; that causes matchup problems because our bigs are good off the dribble [outside] and because of his strength in the post.”
Robinson’s first two rebounds of the game came early in the second quarter, and nearly cost the Rox their first-quarter sparkplug. Wittenmyer took an inadvertant elbow and twice had to leave the game to have his nose plugged.
“I think I lost a pint of blood, but I’m good now,” he was able to joke later. “Kudos to [Rockville trainer] Elise [Pratt] for getting me back out there.”
With Robinson’s defense forcing Rockville turnovers, the Maroons got within 16-10, then 18-14, then 22-21 when big Derrick Nicholas got a steal near midcourt and drove for a layup.
Jordon McFall closed out the first half with a pair of free throws for Rockville, however, and the Rox opened a deliberate, defense-oriented third quarter with a layup by Nick Waltz on a nifty pass from Keiontre Wilkey and a jumper by Gary Ulrich.
Robinson’s Cory Blount got the last basket of the third quarter and the first one of the fourth period, and again the Maroons were within one at 30-29. But Ulrich’s pass found Wittenmyer for a layup, and McFall flipped in an underhand left-handed shot from behind the basket on the right baseline to make it 34-29.
Nicholas got a pair of free throws to cut the lead to three points again, but then Lane Mahurin started breaking down the Robinson defense out of Rockville’s spread. The 6-foot-7 senior got a free throw on one drive down the middle, then a three-point play on another for a 38-31 lead. Ulrich closed out the Rockville scoring from the foul line.
“They’re a really good team, probably the best we’ve played to this point,” coach Mack Thompson of Robinson said of the Rox. “We got a bad start, but we battled back. We got it down to one … but we didn’t mke the plays we needed to.
“It was fun up to the end though.”
“Robinson is a great team,” said Lane Mahurin. “I’m just happy we could pull it out tonight.”
McFall led Rockville in scoring with 13 points. Ulrich’s late free throws enabled him to score 10, while Lane Mahurin had nine and Wittenmyer eight.
“My confidence has grown so much over the summer,” said McFall, who thanked his coaches for encouraging him to work on his shooting. “We all needed confidence tonight. We knew who [the Maroons’] players were and what we needed to do defensively.”
Siler, the target of some of the Wabash Valley’s best defenders throughout the tournament, had 15 for Robinson and Nicholas added nine.
Asked if he’d enjoyed his first Classic, Siler said, “The first three [games] were good. [The Rox are] a good team; they’ve got a good big guy and some shooters.”
“He has a sick crossover [dribble],” said Wittenmyer of Siler, whom he guarded most of the time in the late going, “I just had to stay in front of him.”
Both teams expect their four Classic games to give them a boost toward their goals for later in the season.
“This will be huge for us,” Thompson predicted. “This type of atmosphere, the teams we played … we got a look at everything but the kitchen sink this week. We came to get better, and I think we’re getting there.”
“This will help us a lot,” Siler agreed. “There was good competition here, and some really good games.”
“This boosts our confidence,” said McFall. “We know we can accomplish anything … the sky’s the limit.”
“Being able to go undefeated through the whole tourney is great,” said Wittenmyer. “It’s great preparation for the state finals.”
ROBINSON (39) — Akande 2-5 2-5 6, Scott 1-2 0-0 3, Nicholas 3-10 3-5 9, Siler 6-14 0-0 15, Blount 2-9 0-0 4, Hoagland 1-2 0-0 2, Weck 0-0 0-0 0, Chipman 0-0 0-0 0, Richart 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-43 FG, 5-10 FT, 39 TP.
ROCKVILLE (44) — Mahurin 2-5 5-6 9, Wittenmyer 4-6 0-1 8, McFall 5-11 2-2 13, Ulrich 1-7 8-10 10, Wilkey 1-1 0-0 2, Waltz 1-3 0-1 2, R.Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-33 FG, 15-20 FT, 44 TP.
Robinson 6 15 6 12 — 39
Rockville 16 8 6 14 — 44
3-point shooting — Robinson 4-16 (Siler 3-8, Scott 1-1, Akande 0-1, Richart 0-1, Blount 0-5), Rockville 1-10 (McFall 1-5, Waltz 0-1, Ulrich 0-4). Total fouls — Robinson 19, Rockville 11. Fouled out — Nicholas, Akande. Turnovers — Robinson 13, Rockville 12. Rebounds — Robinson 28 (Nicholas 6, team 6, Akande 5, Blount 4, Siler 3, Scott 2, Hoagland 2), Rockville 29 (Mahurin 6, Waltz 5, Wittenmyer 4, McFall 4, Ulrich 4, team 4, Wilkey 2). Assists — Robinson 6 (Blount 2, Richart 2, Akande, Hoagland), Rockville 8 (Mahurin 2, Wittenmyer 2, Ulrich 2, Wilkey 2). Steals — Robinson 10 (Blount 4, Nicholas 2, Akande, Scott, Siler, Hoagland), Rockville 8 (Wittenmyer 5, Mahurin 2, Wilkey). Blocks — Robinson 3 (Akande 2, Chipman), Rockville 4 (Mahurin 3, Wittenmyer).
Next — Robinson (12-2) plays Friday at Hutsonville-Palestine. Rockville (11-0) plays Saturday at Terre Haute North.