It's a one-game weekend for Knox County's Blue Chip Conference teams as the entire league takes Saturday off this week.
Rivet and South Knox dive back into conference play, as the Patriots travel to Shoals and the Spartans host Class A No. 3 Barr-Reeve. North Knox steps out of Blue Chip competition but gets a ranked foe at home in Class A No. 7 North Daviess. All three games have junior varsity tips at 6 p.m. today.
The Patriots (5-11, 2-3 BCC) put together consecutive wins over the past week, topping Wood Memorial, 55-53, in overtime last Thursday and pulling away late at Bloomington Lighthouse on Monday, 43-32. Cutting down turnovers has been vital to the recent success.
“Any time you take care of the ball, you're going to be in good shape. That goes for any team, but especially for us,” Rivet coach Mark Bezy said. “When we take care of the ball, that gives us a fighting chance. We're starting to put some things together, and that's exciting to see.”
Tre'von Taylor continued to shoulder the scoring load in the two wins, tallying a total of 47 points in those games. The 6-3 senior is averaging an area-best 18.9 points per game, and he's scored at least 20 in six of the Patriots' last seven games. But others are chipping in too, with 6-4 senior Austin Finch (8.5) averaging 11.0 points over the last three games, and Bezy credited 5-9 junior Charlie Niehaus (3.4) and 5-11 senior Cedric Schleiss (2.8) with taking better care of the ball. Those four start along with 6-3 freshman Tommy Herman, but the coach also praised the play of 6-2 junior Peyton Catt on Monday's win.
“(Catt) gave us some solid defensive minutes, and hopefully he can build on that and help us down the stretch. That'd make our bench a little bit deeper,” Bezy said. “(Herman) is coming around. He's still getting in foul trouble, but he has nice touch on his shot, good court awareness, and he makes some nice passes out of the high post.”
The Jug Rox (8-11, 3-4) close out their conference slate against the Patriots, and they've been up-and-down. Shoals won four in a five-game stretch in January to get to the .500 mark, but carries a three-game losing streak into today's game. Of course, those losses were against Barr-Reeve, South Knox and 2A No. 10 Paoli. The Jug Rox are led by 5-10 junior Levi Pendley and 6-5 junior Reece Sherrill.
“They didn't lose a whole lot from last year, and it's a tough place to play over there,” Bezy said. “Pendley is a good player, and (coach) Bryson (Abel) does a good job with them. They have a lot of high motors, and they play hard for him. I know I sound like a broken record, but if we take care of the ball, take smart shots and play defense, it's going to be a dog fight. If we don't, Shoals is good enough to make it a long night for us.”
The gauntlet of top teams in this portion of the state continues for the Spartans today with the perennial power Vikings (18-1, 5-1). South Knox (9-9, 4-1) fell last week to newly-voted 2A No. 1 Linton, 61-45, and Evansville Reitz, 70-48, but coach David Burkett was mostly encouraged by what he saw from his team.
“We're peaking at the right time. The guards are shooting it well, and (Justin) Fickling, (Walker) McCrary and (Logan) Anthis are all playing well too,” he said. “The one thing we can't do is miss easy shots, where teams take off on the other end and we can't set up our defense. When we get set up on defense, we're pretty good.
“This is what you want, to play tougher competition so when you walk into the tournament, you play some guys who might not be as athletic or talented (as the recent opponents), and your guys aren't afraid at all. Playing Reitz, Barr-Reeve and Washington (next Saturday) should get us well-prepared.”
Fickling, a 6-4 senior, is second in the area at 17.2 points per game, and he's expected to start alongside 5-10 junior Garrett Holscher (9.6), 6-0 sophomore Brennon Robinson (6.9), 6-6 senior McCrary (5.0) and 6-1 senior Anthis (3.7). Holscher, Robinson and McCrary have all provided a recent uptick in scoring, though the latter two were limited to a combined eight points in Saturday's loss.
Barr-Reeve saw its 54-game conference winning streak come to an end at Loogootee last month, but that's the only blemish it's suffered this season. While 6-8 junior Forest Park transfer and Division I talent Curt Hopf was ruled ineligible this season by the IHSAA, the Vikings are more than formidable, with 6-3 junior Brycen Graber running the point and 6-8 senior Keegan O'Neill clogging the middle.
“They want to turn you over in their 1-3-1 trapping zone or their 2-2-1. Teams tend to be stupid when they break it and try to score immediately, but we need to be intelligent. If we have an open layup we need to take it, but if not we need to make them play some defense,” Burkett said. “We have to keep them off the offensive glass. That's 100 percent the key to the game. For the most part, we've done a good job rebounding.
“It's going to be nice being at home for this one. This would be a good one to get.”
With four wins in their last five and the only loss coming against top-ranked Linton, the Warriors (9-10) are trending up at the right time. Most recently North Knox knocked off Class A honorable mention Northeast Dubois, 57-50, last Thursday. North Daviess pushed the Jeeps' losing streak to five games with a tight 50-43 win on Tuesday, so the Cougars appear to be a team the Warriors should compete with.
“We're playing our best basketball as of late, and the Northeast Dubois win was our best of the season,” North Knox coach Daniel Crabtree said. “We are still far from a finished product. Although we have had several games of great first-half defense and nice leads, we haven't put four quarters together to finish off some teams. We still need to be a much better rebounding team and certainly need to better against presses and traps.”
Crabtree will go with his normal lineup of 6-0 sophomores Holtman Doades (16.3) and Rhett Sheren (4.5), 6-0 juniors Reece Hammelman (8.6) and Isaiah Collins (6.4), and 6-5 sophomore Ian Kixmiller (5.4).
The Warriors were dealt an emotional and physical blow on Sunday when Brayden Thorne (5.0) was in a car accident. Though Crabtree said Thorne avoided serious injury, the 6-0 junior has a concussion along with numerous cuts and swelling, and there's no timetable for his return.
The Cougars are expected to start 6-1 senior Jack Townsend, 6-4 senior Jalen Knepp, 6-3 seniors Kirk Wagler and Trevor Riggins, and 5-10 freshman Jaylen Mullen. Townsend is the team's go-to scorer, but he sat the entire second half due to apparent disciplinary reasons Tuesday, and his team rallied to beat the Jeeps without him. Last Friday in a win over Class A honorable mention Bloomfield, Townsend joined the 1,000-point club and broke the school's record for career 3-pointers.
“North Daviess is well-coached and is one of the best defensive teams in the state, regardless of class,” Crabtree said. “Jack Townsend is a special player who is in range as soon as he crosses half court. Defending him will be a difficult task. Other than Townsend, they're balanced with three starters that have good size. They don't necessarily play with their back to the basket, but they're athletic and can shoot. Mullen has really improved and become more confident.
“I expect them to mix in several half-court zone traps as well as their solid man-to-man. We have to contain Townsend to the best of our ability while getting out on their shooters. We'll need to rebound and limit them to one possession, and taking care of the ball against their traps is obviously a point of emphasis.”