By Pedro Velazco
— Tipton’s boys basketball team has a 10-game winning streak against Delphi, as the two teams meet every year in the front half of the season. Heading into this season, the previous five matchups hadn’t been close. The Blue Devils had won each of those by 18 points or more.
That changed on Dec. 18 of this season.
That night, Tipton snagged a two-point road victory, 57-55, and got an eyeful of a vastly improved Oracles squad. That change is why Delphi and Tipton will meet again on Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Class 2A Tipton Regional.
“I think it gives us confidence that we’re able to play with a team of their caliber,” Delphi coach Michael Lewis said of that first matchup. “It helped us mature throughout the season because they sped us up in the third quarter.”
The Oracles (19-5) progressively learned not to relax in games, not to let others dictate the action, and went on to win the Delphi Sectional for their first postseason hardware since 2003-04. On the other side, Tipton kept motoring through its schedule, amassing a 23-2 record.
Now their paths cross again in the regional opener. Wapahani (21-3) faces Northfield (17-7) in the noon game. The championship is at 8 p.m.
Watching the Blue Devils over three seasons as coach of Delphi, Lewis is impressed with how Tipton keeps cranking out winning teams.
“First of all, they have an unbelievable winning tradition,” Lewis said. “These kids have won their entire careers. They have an all-star-level player in Mike Crawford, who impacts the game so many ways. We really have to have a sense of urgency for 32 minutes.”
The Devil offense flows through Crawford, a 6-5 wing who leads the Tribune area in scoring at 27.3 points per game. Tipton’s offense, especially in transition, starts with quick guards Blake Hoover (10.9 ppg) and Mason Degenkolb (7.7).
“[Crawford] helps himself get better because he guards, he rebounds, he impacts the game in a number of ways,” Lewis said. “It’s going to take a full team effort to try and contain him. But they’ve got other capable players, too. The Hoover kid is a very, very good player. He’s capable of putting up 20 every night too.”
Delphi has plenty of weaponry on its end. The Oracles are led by 6-foot-7 inside-outside player Cole Murray (19 ppg), 5-11 guard Erik Carpenter (9.5), 6-0 point guard Brent Hawn (8.7), 6-2 guard Ricky Windell (7.8) and 6-1 guard Blake Walters (6.3). Murray has put up 184 3-poiners this season and connected on 40 percent. Hawn has shot 104 from 3-land and hits 45 percent. The top five scorers have shot almost as many 3s (421) as 2-pointers (452).
“They spread the floor well and they’re good on the dribble, and they’ve got excellent shooters,” Tipton coach Brad Dickey said. “The 6-7 kid [Murray], he’s actually a perimeter player but does a nice job in the lane as well. [Delphi’s] not necessarily the tallest team we’ve played, but very skilled and dynamic.”
Hawn didn’t play in the December matchup as he was recovering from an injury.
“We’ve changed a lot and they’ve added an entire player at the top of their offense,” Dickey said. “It feels like we’re starting over and the kids are playing pretty close attention to the new scouting report.”
Hawn’s presence makes Delphi more dangerous.
“It’ll be a different matchup with him in the game,” Lewis said. “It obviously gives us more balance and more depth.”
The Blue Devils faced a challenge to contain driving Madison-Grant guard Tyler McClellan last week in a 70-58 victory over M-G in the sectional title game.
Delphi poses even more driving threats.
“[The Oracles] are a little more dedicated to finishing with layups,” Dickey said. “They do a good job making it to the rim and they have good shooters on the perimeter in case they draw help.”
Tipton’s offense often makes hay in transition and can get on runs that force the opposition to play catch-up. The Devils have scored 69 or more points 10 times, including all three wins in the sectional. That explosive offense is often fueled by harassing defense that causes turnovers.
“That’s something we learned in our first meeting with them,” Lewis said. “Obviously, having our point guard back is going to help in that category. If we shoot the ball well, I think we’ll have a chance to stay in the game.”