SHARPSVILLE — It took a total refusal to bend or break and clutch offensive play in the telling moments to get the job done, and the Tri-Central boys basketball team had just enough to hold off a stubborn Sheridan crew here Tuesday night, 63-60.
Shaking off icy shooting performances and ball-handling problems in recent outings, the Trojans shot with more confidence and committed just 13 turnovers. And for three quarters their defense shackled Sheridan to just 16 hoops in 40 attempts.
The Trojans appeared headed for their most satisfying victory and a successful Hoosier Heartland Conference (HHC) debut when they exploded for 26 points in the second period, thanks to a 16-6 run — their biggest spree of the year — for a 38-28 halftime lead.
But after meshing 14 of 26 first-half shots when they committed a season-low five turnovers, they hit just 3 of 11 third-period flings, 4 of their 14 attempts in the fourth segment and erred eight times.
The Blackhawks refused to surrender, trimmed a late third-quarter deficit of 48-34 to 54-49 with 2:30 remaining and was very much alive, 59-57, at the :35.9 mark. The Hawks fouled twice in those final critical moments, and Trojan sophomore Dillon Smith calmly deposited four free throws for the clinchers.
“We shot the ball much better tonight,” TC coach Kyle Zahn remarked, “and were much more confident which is what we’ve been looking for and tells you what we can do. Sheridan was bigger and took advantage of matchups inside and it caused us a lot of problems,” referring to 6-foot-3 Cort Christy, 6-3 Michael Burnell and 6-2 Chris Roberts. The trio accounted for 43 of the Hawk tallies and 15 of their 25 rebounds.
Christy went on a 14-point tear in the first quarter including the first 11 to help Sheridan to early leads of 9-5, 13-7 and 15-12. But he went 2-of-9 afield the rest of the way and had just seven points the final three quarters. The Trojans went alternately to man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, and it was the zone that kept Christy surrounded most of the time without the ball.
“We knew we wanted to mix up defensively, and it paid off,” Zahn explained. “The big thing is the win makes us 1-0 in the conference and gives us a leg up going into a tough HHC game at Rossville Friday night. Our focus now is what we do from now on. Rossville is pretty good, and we need this win.”
Sheridan coach Cory Dunn offered: “We had a chance to win it, but we had a lot of letdowns and mistakes in the second quarter. TC did a good job of keeping the ball out of Christy’s hands by packing their zone and closing out on our shooters. And we lost too many of those 50-50 balls because they were quicker.
“TC had that big second quarter, and that’s been our problem — we’ve been giving up too many big quarters,” the former TC standout finished.
Both clubs endured shooting problems in the third segment (3-11), and it all boiled down to Sheridan’s 24-point flurry in the final period and some vital Trojan tallies in the closing moments.
The Hawks went 10 of 15 at the free throw line in that final act; Brock Kitchel hit a pair of huge treys including a bank shot that made it 61-60 with :16.3 left. Roberts went 5 of 6 at the line and Christy was 4 of 6 that was a key factor in trimming that once safe TC lead to one point.
Dalton Davis had a big breakaway basket after a steal by Seth Blunck and then followed with an even bigger trey. Blunck fouled out with 2:30 to play and Bryce Dowell came in to nail a crucial basket and and nab two big rebounds.
Smith led TC with 15 points, Garrett Dick had 12, Blunck 10 and Howell and Davis eight apiece. Christy led Sheridan with 22.