As the first half of play between the Mississinewa Indians and the 2A No. 6 South Decatur Cougars concluded, it looked like a contest that could go down to the wire.
And over the final 16 minutes of game play, the Indians made sure that would not be the case, scoring a remarkable 37 points in the third quarter and shooting 25-of-37 in the second half in a 95-74 triumph, their second win in a row.
“I could not be more-proud of this group, the leadership, and just how bought in they are to what they are doing,” Mississinewa Head Coach James Reed said.
Landen Swanner, who has been nothing short of automatic in the early stages of the 2020-2021 campaign, lit up the scoreboard again on Saturday night, collecting a double-double with 27 points and 10 rebounds. The Cougars did not have an answer for the sweet-shooting senior, who knocked down seven of his 10 looks from beyond the arc and nine of his 16 shots overall.
“Landen is a program changer,” Reed said. “This is not a surprise for me or any of his teammates what Landen does every single day because he puts in the work. I’m just lucky to be his coach.”
Tai McClung, who only scored five points in the first half, came alive in the second half, scoring 19 of his 24 points in the final two quarters. After South Decatur star post player Lane Lauderbaugh was forced to sit early in the third quarter due to foul trouble, McClung went to work in the post, making several tough shots through contact and enforcing his well underneath the boards throughout the second half.
“In the last two games, he has woken up,” Reed said. “He’s got his spark back. His love for the game is there. When he is on a roll, he is tough to stop.”
However, the star of the game was junior Hayden Ulerick, who put together one of the finest performances of his high school career. Though lacking in stature, that did not deter Mississinewa’s point guard, who drove to the hoop with ferocity and vigor, showing a finishing touch around the rim, which was not a part of his game a season ago.
Ulerick finished with 25 points, shooting 11-of-12 from the field, which included 11 straight makes to start the game. Thirteen of his points came in Mississinewa’s game changing third quarter, as he was a perfect six-of-six from the field.
“He just got to the basket,” Reed said of Ulerick. “I knew that was in him, but he hasn’t really shown us that. Today, he broke out big time. It is hard to teach kids intensity, and that kid has intensity. It isn’t about how big you are, it’s about who wants it more. He’s a worker, and he does the things that every championship team needs.”
Ulerick opened the scoring for the Indians, knocking down their first two field goals, and a pair of triples from Swanner helped the Indians build a 17-6 advantage at the 3:25 mark of the first quarter. Another field goal by Ulerick and three by Swanner put the Indians up eight, and McClung capitalized on a three-point opportunity to make it a 25-14 Mississinewa lead at the first quarter break.
The Indians continued to play well through most of the second quarter, leading by as many as 13 at one point. Their shots continued to fall, while their defense made it tough for Cougars’ stars Lauderbaugh and Hunter Johnson to find much of a rhythm offensively.
However, in the final stages of the second quarter, the Cougars began to push back.
After Kreigh Young’s first basket put the Indians up 34-22 around the three-minute mark, the Cougars came roaring back, knocking down three straight triples and using a 9-1 run to cut Mississinewa’s advantage to 35-33.
“In the second quarter, we got lazy,” Reed said. “It’s hard to get a lead and keep that lead.”
With momentum beginning to swing in South Decatur’s favor, the Indians made several adjustments at halftime, looking to play more uptempo on offense and focus on getting the ball into the post for easy baskets.
The changes worked to perfection. In just over three minutes of play in the third, the Indians outscored the Cougars 16-3, increasing their advantage to 15 points, and their lead never fell below double digits the rest of the way.
In the third quarter alone, the Indians shot an incredible 14-of-18 from the field and five-of-seven from beyond the arc, as Ulerick, Swanner, and McClung scored at will from all over the floor.
After Ulerick’s tremendous shooting in the third quarter, McClung closed the game out for the Indians in the fourth, scoring 12 of his 19 second half in the final eight minutes. Mississinewa led by as many as 28 points, before setting for the 21-point triumph.
For the Cougars, Johnson finished with 34 points, while Lauderbaugh finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
With a pair of victories over two top-10 opponents in their last two contests, the Indians look to be rounding into form. With Huntington North and longtime rival Oak Hill on the horizon, Reed hopes that the team he witnessed against South Decatur will again show up this coming week.
“We need to take it one game at a time, bring this team every time we play, and play for each other,” Reed said. “We need to stay focused on each other, and if we can do that, I think will continue to grow game in and game out.”