By GENE F. CONARD Kokomo Tribune
---- — SHARPSVILLE — According to the purists, offense wins ballgames and defense wins championships. Unfortunately for Tri-Central’s boys basketball team, neither was sufficient here Saturday afternoon as a visiting Manchester Squire club held off a late challenge to take a 46-41 victory.
The Trojans’ defense was good enough to win most contests, but they were again victimized by their inability to generate offense and hit shots when they needed them.
The Squires’ offense was just sufficient enough to hold off TC (4-7), but it was an almost invisible Trojan first-half offense that played a huge role in the defeat.
Winning for the ninth time in 13 contests, the Squires shackled the Trojans to an anemic, 14-point first half in which TC hit just 3 of 13 shots. The Squires upped their first-period 12-7 lead to 29-14 at halftime with a 13-6 run and appeared safely away with a gaudy 34-18 spread early in the third quarter.
But it took a more attentive Squire defense and a few missed Trojan opportunities down the stretch for Manchester to survive. TC managed a mere 32 shots in the contest, hit just 12 of those and hurt its own cause on 15-of-22 free throw shooting — six of those misses coming in the first half.
The Squires weren’t exactly explosive with 15 baskets in 40 attempts but six of those fielders were 3-pointers and they canned 9 of 12 tries at the charity stripe.
“Our problem was not our defense, it has been solid all year,” TC coach Kyle Zahn said. “We’re just having a hard time finding points and hitting shots. We did a better job in the second half with more movement, but if we would’ve made our free throws we would’ve been right there.
“Manchester’s defense wouldn’t let us get inside or get into our offense. We worked this week in practice of attacking the seam, but it still gets down to knocking down shots,” he added.
Manchester coach Eric Thompson offered: “I was happy with our defense that has been giving just 49 points a game or a little better, and yes, we do shoot a lot of 3s — sometimes too many. But we were hitting shots [Saturday] and we made Tri-Central play a game they didn’t want to play,” meaning they didn’t allow TC to get out and run.
“The big thing is we stopped their dribble penetration, and we won the rebound battle,” the former Peru coach added.
Trailing by 16 with eight minutes to play, the Trojans suddenly turned what looked like a certain blowout into possible success. The Squires, who meshed 11 of 25 first-half shots including 4 of 10 treys, were chilled to 3-of-11 accuracy in an eight-point third period by a more aggressive Trojan defense that forced five turnovers.
The TC offense wasn’t exactly explosive with 4 of 8 firing and 10 third-quarter tallies, but that 37-24 Manchester lead heading into the final segment looked approachable.
It got even more interesting early in the fourth when Dillon Smith and Garrett Dick ignited a 9-2 spree to trim the deficit to 39-33 with 2:19 remaining. A grand opportunity came when Phoenix Goad was called for an offensive foul, his fifth, giving TC possession.
But Smith’s trey bounced away, Bryce Dowell’s layup rolled off the rim and the Squires capitalized on 7 of 8 free throw accuracy in the final 1:13 to seal the victory.
Smith had 14 points to lead the Trojans.