BOURBON — Facing an exhausted lineup in the huddle with a little under three minutes on the clock, Triton head coach Jason Groves urged his players on: Give it all you’ve got for just a little longer, and there’ll be plenty of time to rest over Christmas break.
And, of course, heading into the holiday layover with a win always feels a lot better than the alternative.
The Trojans battled Warsaw down to the wire during a seesaw fourth quarter that featured seven lead changes, senior captain Clay Yeo knocked down a contested game-winner from deep with less than a second on the clock, and Triton eked out its third straight win in a home thriller with the rival Tigers Tuesday night, 49-47.
“I said ‘Hey, you guys have a break after this. Give me this last couple, three minutes here, all you’ve got,’” said Groves of his timeout with 2:49 remaining. “’We’ve got some time off to get healed, get healthy. Just give it to us.’ And our kids did. I could see them talking to each other and kind of supporting each other and being there for each other. That was one thing we really wanted to focus on this year was kind of coming together as a team and playing for each other, and I really thought they did that. We’ve got a great player, but we’re not just one player, we’re a team. I’m proud of these guys.”
Coming off an IBCA Player of the Week selection Monday, Yeo put his team on his shoulders Tuesday.
The 6-6 swingman carried the Trojans offensively in the first half with 20 of the Trojans’ 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He finished with a game-high 33 points including the game-winner, which he drained from the right wing with John Swanson contesting, touching off a premature celebration as a raucous home crowd rushed the floor and had to be called back to the stands as the clock was reset with .8 seconds left.
Warsaw turned over on the ensuing fullcourt inbounds pass, the Trojans got the ball in Yeo’s hands under their own basket, and the senior Valparaiso commit ran out the game’s remaining moments for the feel-good win.
“He’s a great player. He obviously should be an Indiana All-Star. When you’ve got one of those on your team, it makes my job a little bit easier,” said Groves. “He does a lot of things. The thing I’m most proud of is just his leadership this year. It’s been 10 times better, it’s been unbelievable. His work ethic in practice, what he brings day in and day out, is getting him the success, and hopefully our kids see that.”
“There is a lot of stuff going on outside of basketball, and being so young I was really proud of our guys, the way they reacted in a close game,” said Yeo. “I’m glad that we had the grit to pull this one out, and I really credit our team defense to get us in position for me to make that shot at the end.”
Yeo’s game-winner didn’t go exactly as it was drawn up.
With Triton in the bonus, Yeo was supposed to get to the rack or get fouled trying. But a misstep at the elbow forced him to pass off to Tanner Shepherd, who swung the ball to fellow junior Cody Shively, who in turn got it back to Yeo recovering at the top of the key. Senior forward Seth Glingle set a screen for Yeo, and he knocked down the winning triple from the right wing as Warsaw’s defenders made the switch with time running out.
“Coach Groves drew up the play; it was just a high ball screen giving me a lot of room to create on the wing,” Yeo said. “I wasn’t really supposed to pass it off to Tanner, but I kind of lost my balance, passed it off, Shively got it back. Seth had a good screen on my man, made the big guy switch off, and I stepped up and hit the shot.”
“Clay likes to pull up and hit that 3 in clutch situations,” Groves said. “I told him we were in the bonus and to try to get to the basket, try to get fouled. But that’s what I told him against Culver last year when he hit the buzzer-beater. He’s a great player, and great players make great plays. They’re just able to do that, and fortunately I’m able to have a team where we can kind of give him the ball and clear out and see what he can do. He made a play, that’s all there is to that.”
While Yeo’s offensive heroics were self-evident, team defense made all the difference in the back-and-forth battle.
The Trojans held Warsaw to its lowest points production of the season, while Triton was limited to its second lowest points total of the year after a loss at Plymouth back on Nov. 27. Both teams showed patience in the offensive halfcourt, however, as the Tigers converted 20-of-42 from the floor, and Triton finished at an 18-of-32 field clip in a back-and-forth battle that featured 17 lead changes.
“Our defense has continued to get better throughout the year. That’s something that we take pride in,” said Groves. “The first few games we were giving up like 60 points a game, and that’s something I told our kids I don’t think as a head coach I’ve had a team where we’ve given up that many points. We kind of got back to focusing on that end of the court, and our kids have been playing much better defensively.”
Warsaw was led by Jared Bloom’s 22 points as the senior sharpshooter drained 9 of his 13 shots, including 4 of 7 from beyond the arch. Senior forward Swanson chipped in 11 points in the loss, Warsaw’s first since earning back-to-back wins over Rochester and Wawasee.
While Yeo supplied most of his team’s
.offensive firepower, several Trojans made big plays down the stretch.
Glingle’s lay-in at the 6:40 mark of the fourth sparked a 6-0 run as Triton rallied back from a three-point deficit at the start of the final frame, and Shepherd’s transition basket off a Yeo assist and quick outlet from Darren Harrell at the 5:15 mark of the quarter capped off the run and got the home crowd back in it.
Harrell, a first-year junior guard with the Trojans’ varsity team, also buried a big 3-pointer from the corner on a drive and kick from Yeo with 2:19 left to play, prompting chants of ‘This is our house’ from Triton fans before Bloom’s answer from the top of the key on the other end.
While Warsaw slips a game under .500 at 3-4, Triton improves to 5-3 with its third straight win. The Trojans won’t be back in action until the new year as they end their holiday layover with a home game against Elkhart Christian Jan. 3.
“Last night we had a horrible practice — everybody was drained, nobody was talking,” said Groves. “They have finals this week. We were supposed to practice tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, but I’ll give them tomorrow off. We’ll come back in Thursday and see how it goes from there. If they come in ready to practice on Thursday maybe they’ll get Friday off. We need some time to recover. We don’t play until after the new year, so we’ll have some time to be with our families here and relax and get healed up.”
• TRITON 49, WARSAW 47
Score by quarters
Warsaw: 11 26 38 47
Triton: 13 24 35 49
WARSAW (47): Jared Bloom 22, Darren Walcott 0, John Swanson 11, Quim Romans 0, Trae Furnivall 0, Nate Pearl 3, Jason Gerguson 0, Taylor Cone 2, Jordan Stookey 7, Rashaan Jackson 2; Totals: 20 2-4 47.
TRITON (49): Joey Corder 1, Clay Yeo 33, Darren Harrell 3, Tanner Shepherd 4, Seth Glingle 4, Cody Shively 4, Drew Mosson 0, Dillon Meadway 0, Skyler Reichert 0; Totals: 18 9-12 49.
3-pointers: Warsaw 5 (Bloom 4, Pearl 1), Triton 4 (Yeo 3, Anderson 1); Rebounds: Warsaw 14 (Jackson 4), Triton 26 (Glingle 7); Turnovers: Warsaw 10, Triton 17; Steals: Warsaw 11 (Bloom 4, Stookey 4), Triton 5 (Yeo 3); Assists: Warsaw 7 (Stookey 4), Triton 5 (Yeo 2, Shively 2).
Records: Triton 5-3, Warsaw 3-4