When the Mississinewa Indians are locked in as a cohesive unit and playing to their strengths, they are a tough team to compete with and even tougher to defeat.
And for the first two quarters of their Sectional 23 semifinal contest against Heritage on Friday evening in Gas City, the Indians put together some of their best basketball of the season.
A 34-point first quarter, combined with stout performances from Tai McClung and Landen Swanner, the Indians punched their ticket to the championship game with a 76-61 triumph over the Patriots.
From the opening tip, it was clear that the Indians’ gameplan was to get the ball inside, and it worked to perfection. McClung scored the first five points of the contest for Mississinewa, and it helped the Indians settle into their groove.
The 6-4 forward had no issues against a much smaller Heritage lineup, scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes.
“Tai is just so special,” Reed said. “When you really sit down and watch him play, every time he touches the ball, something great happens. He is the least selfish player that we have. He is always trying to find his teammates, but tonight, when his number was called, he was ready. Two nights in a row now, every time Tai McClung touched the ball, something great happened.”
Meanwhile, on the perimeter, Landen Swanner let it fly, knocking down four of his six three-point attempts, while Hayden Ulerick also knocked down a pair of triples.
In all, the Indians shot 11-of-15 in the first eight minutes, taking a commanding 34-14 lead.
“We haven’t hit shot for probably half the year. Literally, other than Landen, (we were) not hitting shots. So we’ve worked really, really hard on getting the ball inside,” Mississinewa Head Coach James Reed said. “When a couple of shots started to fall, it made everything else that we’ve been working on that much easier.
“Kudos to our guys for being prepared, being ready, and coming with some fire.”
McClung continued to dominate in the second quarter, scoring the Indians’ first 12 points and increasing Mississinewa’s lead to 23 points. Swanner scored seven more points as well, as the Indians took a commanding 53-31 lead into the halftime break.
Armed with a big lead, the Indians relaxed a little bit in the second half. While their crisp play sagged in the final two quarters, their double-digit advantage remained intact.
“I couldn’t be more excited with how we are playing,” Reed said. “I think this is the best basketball that we have been playing this season, and that’s where you want to be at the end of the season.”
McClung finished the contest with 26 points, 22 of which came in the first half, while Swanner scored 19 in the Indians’ victory. Hayden Ulerick also played a strong game for Mississinewa, recording a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Indians will face the Norwell Knights in the Sectional 23 Championship on Saturday evening.
“(We need to) prepare mentally and physically, and (make) sure we eat right and drink right tonight,” Reed said. “We need to be as prepared tomorrow night as we have been for the last two nights. We are not thinking about anything other than winning tomorrow night.”