By GENE F. CONARD Kokomo Tribune
---- — MICHIGANTOWN — It took gobs of guts and stubborn refusal to surrender, but most of all it took an iron-like will to resist and prevail.
And when the last shot was fired in Tri-Central’s boys basketball team’s 60-57 double-overtime win over an equally stubborn Clinton Prairie for the championship of the 54th annual Clinton Central Holiday Tournament here Saturday night, both the Trojans and Gophers had to be wondering, “Are we finished yet?”
The Trojans (3-3) had all kinds of opportunities to win their 10th CC Tourney title, third in the last five years and fifth in the last 10. But a nightmarish free throw performance (11 of 22) including three missed bonus chances and a blown two-shot opportunity kept the game hanging in the balance.
“It was very frustrating, and we were fortunate to pull it out with our 11-of-22 free throw shooting,” TC coach Kyle Zahn said. “But we were able to execute offensively and run our sets in both overtimes which helped us get the lead. We also did a good job taking away their steps on ball screens and staggers.”
Cody Howell’s clutch 3-pointer wiped out a 47-44 Gopher lead for the game’s fifth tie (47-47) with 1:11 left in regulation, and TC nearly pulled it off when Garrett Dick’s jumper from the key struck iron. But a Seth Blunck miss of the bonus earlier in the final act also saved the Gophers.
Dillon Smith gave TC a 49-47 lead to open the first OT, but Colten Leininger missed the bonus with :35.5 left and Kale Morris’ jumper with :15 left forced the second extra period (49-49).
Blunck and Dalton Davis canned shots to give the Trojans a quick 53-49 lead in the second overtime, and it was a 55-51 TC lead when Leininger again went to the line for the bonus with :54.7 to play. But a miss and Austin Martin’s two freebies kept CP alive, 55-53.
Blunck calmly deposited two free ones to make it 57-53; Martin’s bucket cut it to 57-55 and Dick hit one of two at the line for a 58-55 TC edge. Martin hit again with :08.8 to play; the Gophers fouled in desperation, and Davis and Bryce Dowell canned clinching free throws.
Neither club needed asbestos gloves when it came to overall accuracy. TC was 22 of 52 (.423), 4 of 13 from 3-point range (.307) and of course that horrendous .500 at the stripe. Prairie was 18 of 43 overall (.419), a decent 7 of 19 from long distance (.368) and 14 of 21 (.667) at the line.
The quarter stops weren’t alarming either, TC leading at the first stop, 18-17; CP in front at halftime, 26-25, and after three quarters, 38-37, and it was deadlocked at 47-47 after three segment.
The lead changed hands four times in the final segment, and it took Howell’s bomb to keep the battle alive at 47-all.
Howell, who was later named the tourney’s outstanding player, led TC with 18 points and also had five rebounds. Blunck had 13 tallies and 12 rebounds.
Morris had a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds; Martin added 22 markers and eight rebounds.
TC won the boards, 31-19, and had just eight turnovers while the Gophers erred 13 times.
The five-man all-tournament team included Jared Miller of Carroll; Jake Burton of Clinton Central; Morris and Martin of Clinton Prairie and Blunck of Tri-Central.