BOURBON — Triton faces a historically tough field as the regional round of the 101st Annual IHSAA Boys State Basketball Tournament convenes this weekend.
The Trojans (20-3) take on Pioneer (15-9) in the afternoon game following the tournament opener between Morgan Township (19-4) and Fort Wayne Canterbury (17-4) with the championship slated for 7:30 p.m. EST.
If recent history is any indicator, the ultimate prize could be even bigger than a regional title. The past four champions eventually went on to the Class A state finals, where three of the four claimed state supremacy.
“I think it’s going to be a great tournament,” said Triton head basketball coach Jason Groves. “The regional has produced several finalists in the last few years. It’s been quite a bit in the past four years. It’s going to be another competitive one again. I think anybody has a chance of winning, it’s just a matter of who’s going to show up and put in two solid games. I think it’s wide open for everybody, and you can’t look past anybody. It’s going to be a really fun tournament; I’m excited for it.”
Triton itself represents two of the last four state finalists, beating Indianapolis Lutheran in 2007-08 for the title, and falling 66-55 in ‘08-09 to finish runner-up behind Jac-Cen-Del.
Last year, Triton fell in its regional opener with Fort Wayne Blackhawk — which went on to lose the championship to eventual state champ Bowman Academy — and with virtually everyone back on this season’s senior-heavy squad, the Trojans are sure to remember the loss.
“I don’t know if it’s unfinished business, but especially with our seniors this is their last go-around so I know they would like to get back to the state,” said Groves. “At the same time they know it’s really tough to get through the regional. I think regional is probably the most difficult thing to get through, just because of the unique format where you have to play one game in the morning and one game at night. Our kids aren’t looking past anybody. I know they’re happy to be in the regional, but at the same time they’re not satisfied being there. They want to keep going and keep playing, and I think they have the confidence to know we can do that.”
One senior who has been with Triton throughout its four-peat run of sectional championships is Griffyn Carpenter. The 6-foot-1 guard/forward is Triton’s leading scorer with a points-per-game average of 18.55 this season, just ahead of sophomore standout Clay Yeo’s 16.76 average.
Carpenter sustained a head injury in the last game of the Trojans’ regular season and has since had limited playing time, but Groves said he seems to be doing just fine.
“Health-wise, he’s fine. He’s been cleared and he can go. We try to be a little bit cautious with him and make sure he doesn’t get hit and protect him a little bit there, but towards the end of last week he started seeming like his old self. I think he’s ready to go.”
One advantage Triton has over its opponents is the home court advantage, which could prove to be a difference-maker in the even tournament field.
“It’s nice to be on your home court, no matter when it is, especially in regional where you have to put two good games together,” Groves said. “They get to just go home and rest between games if we win the first one. The familiarity is obviously an advantage for us and we’re fortunate to host regional, but it’s still going to take a lot of preparation and a lot of execution and intensity and effort for two games to win this thing.”