BOURBON — Although last weekend’s sectional championships was Triton’s sixth straight, it was anything but just another title for the Trojans. For one thing, it may have been the first time in recent years that Triton wasn’t the clear favorite.
The Trojans were playing on someone else’s floor for the first time since 2008, and to get to the championship game, they first had to avenge a loss to host Culver, which had handed Triton its only NSC loss of the year at the Trojan Trench back on Jan. 11. Even after the Trojans’ 44-32 reprisal over the Cavs in the semifinals, the five-time defending champs were in unfamiliar territory as the underdogs against an athletic No. 8-rated Michigan City Marquette squad in the title game. Trailing 39-34 going into the final frame, the No. 10 Trojans battled, eking out a thrilling 47-46 victory to keep their streak intact and earn a spot back on their home floor at this weekend’s Triton Regional.
The Trojans will take on Fort Wayne Canterbury in the late semifinal tentatively scheduled for 12:30 p.m. following the tourney-opener between Gary 21st Century and Pioneer at 10:30 a.m.
“That was kind of a special sectional championship I thought because of those factors,” said Triton head coach Jason Groves, who has guided his team to six straight sectional titles during his eight-year tenure. “Culver had beaten us earlier in the season on our home court, so we were kind of able to get revenge there and kind of pay them back on their home court in sectional. And then going in against Marquette we felt like we were the underdog, so we were playing a different role, I guess, even though we were the five-time defending sectional champions. We played that game with a little chip on our shoulder as well… I think it was just a matter of showing our determination and fight. We didn’t shoot the ball extremely well from the field, didn’t shoot free throws extremely well, but we really fought, played defense and rebounded well; did the little things to kind of grind out a victory.”
“It was really fun. Credit Marquette, they played very good defense, and they were very tough to stop on offense,” said Triton senior Clay Yeo. “It was just a matter of getting stops and it’s great to bring it back to the community and give it back to the school.”
The Trojans enter this weekend’s regional on a nine-game win streak.
Their last loss came by a razor-thin 50-48 margin at LaVille on Jan. 18, when the Lancers ended Triton’s string of three straight Bi-County Tournament championships. It was an experience that left a sour taste in the Trojans’ mouths and one that seems to have helped inspired the team to find another level of play.
“It’s no surprise for me because our kids have been practicing a lot better,” said Groves. “At the beginning of the year I talked about our intensity at practice. One day we’d have a good practice, one day we’d have a bad practice. Toward the end of the season, I think after our couple of losses in conference and Bi-County, I think something clicked with our seniors. I think they realized their time was coming to an end, and they didn’t really want it to come to an end. I’ve noticed a big difference in practice, and I think that carried over into the games.”
“We really wanted to win that Bi-County championship, but we didn’t get to, so we just figured we’d pick it up at practice and see how we could finish the season,” echoed Triton junior Tanner Shepherd. “It got really intense toward the end of the season, and it shows. Our defense has been playing really well, so it’s been nice.”
As the Trojans tip off at this weekend’s regional, they’ll be facing a familiar foe.
It was Canterbury that knocked off then-defending regional champion Triton in a double overtime regional final in Bourbon last year, and the Trojans are hoping to return the favor for that 64-60 loss in Saturday’s semifinals.
“Obviously it’s in the back of our mind that they ended our season last year, but at the same time it’s a different team, different season,” said Groves. “They’re very similar to the way they were last year, though. They’re really good. They’re really able to penetrate, put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. They have several guys that can do that. They pass extremely well, and they shoot extremely well. I think the main thing about them is they’re confident. They play with that, just swagger, I guess. They expect to win every game they’re in, and you can see it when they play.”
“I don’t think we need any motivation; it’s just kind of ironic how it is them so it does kind of motivate us a little more because they ended our season last year,” said Yeo. “We know a lot about them, they know a lot about us. I think it’s just going to come down to getting stops just like in the sectional championship because I think both of us are pretty offense-oriented.”
Defense is the byword of the day for Triton as the Trojans look to contain a balanced Cavalier offense led by a pair of guards in 6’5” senior Trent VanHorn, who is averaging 31 points per game, and 6’1” junior Grant Sinn, averaging 14 points an outing.
“We’re going to have to get stops, take good shots, and execute really well,” said Shepherd. “They’re a good team, they can score, so we’ll just have to play really good D. It’s going to be fun.”
“It’s going to start with containing their penetration,” Groves said. “They put the ball on the floor really well, especially VanHorn and (Chase) Moyle, two guys that are back from last year. We’ve just got to contain it and keep them in front of us, maybe switch up a little bit to keep them in front of us, and also contest their shooters. Those two guys shoot the ball extremely well, as does Sinn, and their big kid pops out and shoots from outside as well. We’ve got our hands full, that’s for sure.”