By MIKE BLATT Kokomo Tribune
---- — TIPTON — They say charity begins at home. It certainly did for Tipton’s boys basketball team on Friday night as the Blue Devils sank 32 of 40 foul shots en route to a 69-56 win over visiting Tri-Central in the 35th annual Pilgrim Cup.
The win was the seventh straight in the Cup series for Tipton and will be remembered for Mason Degenkolb’s remarkable 39-point performance. The sophomore guard sank 7 of 15 shots from the floor, but more importantly, he nailed 22 consecutive free throws before his lone miss in a 23-of-24 performance at the charity stripe.
“We were real fortunate to get some calls and get to the line,” said Tipton coach Brad Dickey. “[Degenkolb] has worked on it, he’s practiced, and so have a lot of guys. So we’re happy for that number.”
For a half, Tri-Central looked like anything but a team playing in its season opener. The Trojans led 17-14 at the first stop and 29-27 at the half, but the Blue Devils pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring TC 20-11 to take a 47-40 lead into the final period. Tipton never let the Trojans get any closer, pulling away behind their strong foul shooting for the win.
Dickey thought maybe his squad’s three games of experience may have made the difference against TC in the third quarter.
“[At the half] we talked about keeping the pace up,” he said. “Maybe we had an advantage because we’d played [three] games before. I think we saw that in the third quarter. Tri-Central was very strong in the first half and did a great job. They were a step slow in the third, I think. Our kids were really concentrating on transition and making a few good adjustments to get the ball inside.”
One key was the Devils’ balanced scoring in the third. Degenkolb had four points, fellow starters Tanner Maxey, Brody Dell, and Nate Friend also scored and so did Sam Gutierrez, Jon Ross, and Jack Critser off the bench. Tipton (3-1) went on an 11-1 run to open the period before Dillon Smith stopped the bleeding with the Trojans’ first field goal of the stanza at the 4:17 mark. The Devils led by 10 late in the quarter before TC closed the gap to seven.
In the fourth, the Devils never gave the visitors a chance to get close as they sank 20 of 23 from the line to hang on for the win.
Tri-Central coach Kyle Zahn felt his team was well-positioned at intermission but the Trojans were unable to take advantage.
“We felt pretty good coming into the half with a two-point lead because we didn’t think we had the best first half. Two of our starters, Dillon Smith and Seth Blunck, were in foul trouble [in the first half]. ...We liked the feel of it, bringing those guys back, and hoped we could start the third quarter strong, but that wasn’t the case.
“They were able to grab the momentum in the third quarter and go on a run. We felt like we were chasing them the rest of the night.”
The Trojans got strong play inside from junior Cody Howell, who scored 14 points and grabbed nine boards. He was also strong at the line, sinking 10 of 12 on the night. In addition, Colten Leininger came off the bench to score nine points. Smith and Dalton Davis chipped in eight points apiece.
For Tipton, junior Brody Dell scored eight points and grabbed seven boards, while senior guard Tanner Maxey added six points.