By Josh Sigler
Class 2A SEMISTATE
Tipton (25-2) vs. Bowman Academy (16-9)
Where: Huntington North H.S.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
TIPTON — Fifteen wins, two losses.
Tipton’s boys basketball team has enjoyed deep runs during the last three postseasons, reaching the semistate each time while racking up the aforementioned record.
In that tally is a 12-0 mark on the Blue Devils’ home floor. They’re just 3-2 outside of The Inferno, including neutral-site losses in the previous two Class 2A North Semistate contests.
The latest postseason loss came at the hands of Bowman Academy in a 69-64 heartbreaker in last season’s semistate at Lafayette Jeff’s Crawley Athletic Center. The Blue Devils trailed by 11 at the half and got as close as three in the closing minutes before succumbing to defeat.
The No. 2-ranked Blue Devils will get a chance at redemption Saturday when they head to Huntington to take on Bowman again. Their Class 2A semistate matchup is at 1 p.m. A win would not only make those postseason losses a distant memory, it would send Tipton to the state finals for the first time in program history.
“We had a chance to win it, we just didn’t close it out,” senior Mike Crawford said. He scored a career-high 40 points in last season’s loss to the Eagles. “Hopefully we can do that this year. This’ll be my third time here and I hate to lose. I just want to win it.”
Tipton and Bowman have both navigated their way back to the semistate level this season despite featuring new faces in their respective rotations.
Crawford leads the Blue Devils’ charge, averaging 27.2 points per game this season, eclipsing the 2,000-point career scoring mark during the postseason. The Saint Louis University recruit has emerged as a Mr. Basketball candidate in recent weeks. He also pulls down a team-high 8.6 rebounds per game.
Senior point guard Blake Hoover (10.6 ppg) and junior forward Nate Friend (7.5 ppg) played major roles on last season’s team as well, but the other regulars, including freshman guard Mason Degenkolb (7.7 ppg), junior center Luke Shively (5.0 ppg), junior forward Austin Hooker (3.4 ppg, 5.2 rebounds), junior guard Tanner Maxey and sophomore guard Brody Dell are all, for the most part, experiencing their first postseason as go-to players.
“I think maybe our group over-performed a little bit because we lost so many talented kids over the last couple seasons,” Tipton coach Brad Dickey said. “The expectations were probably mixed on this group, but because of our strength and toughness, we’ve hung in there. We’ve had a lot of competitive close games. The coaches aren’t shocked that we’re doing this again, but I think some of the community is surprised that we’ve performed so well.”
On the flip side, No. 7-ranked Bowman (16-9) returns three players who saw action in last season’s semistate game. Justin King, Antonio Pipkin and Linden Jackson combined for two points in the win.
“They did graduate some power and some height, but they bring back some excellent athletes and they’re going to play the same way,” Dickey said. “They still fly around and trap and press. They’re capable scorers and great rebounders. It’s another daunting task, but we’ll take another shot at them.”
King, a 6-foot-7 junior, scored 19 points in the Eagles’ regional championship win over Fort Wayne Bishop Luers. He’s already picked up his first NCAA Division I scholarship offer from Northern Illinois, averaging 13.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season.
Pipkin, a 6-3 senior guard, chipped in 19 as well in the win over Luers and has averaged 11.8 ppg and a team-best 7.4 rebounds per game.
Sophomore David Dillard, a 6-4 guard, scored 19 to match King and Pipkin in the win over Luers. Dillard enters semistate play averaging a team-high 15.9 points per game, drawing interest from several Big Ten schools and North Carolina.
Junior guard Aurthur Haggard III adds 13.2 ppg to a high-octane offense that averages 72.8 ppg and has scored 80 or more nine times.
The Eagles have been held under 60 points just five times, the lowest output coming in a 69-56 loss to Indianapolis Tech to open the season back on Nov. 20.
Tipton only gives up 52.3 ppg, holding its opponents to 50 of fewer 11 times.
“Maybe we can hold them down? Maybe we need to outscore them? We’ll see how it goes when we get there,” Dickey said. “Our kids are spirited and solve a lot of problems on their own. We scored a lot more points in the sectional than we thought we might, but that was the style of play at that point. We’ll make another adjustment Saturday.”
The Blue Devils (25-2) have been no stranger to close ballgames. Tipton enters Saturday with a 6-1 record in games decided by two points or less. The only loss in that stretch was a 67-65 setback to 3A No. 9 Frankfort on Feb. 15. The Hot Dogs led the Blue Devils 24-12 at the end of the first quarter, only to have Tipton outscore them by 10 the rest of the way before holding on.
“I hope it’s beneficial,” Dickey said of his team’s tested resume. “We stick together. Our kids support each other and that’s one of the ways you can win a close game. This is a whole new set of challenges. This is a different kind of team to play. This is a new set of circumstances. If you’re a Blue Devil, you have to go ahead and believe.”
The Class 3A North Semistate, pitting No. 3 Andrean (22-3) against No. 7 Fort Wayne Concordia (22-4), will follow at 3:15 p.m.