On their Thanksgiving Eve home opener, the Mississinewa Indians successfully followed their gameplan against a highly athletic and skilled Fort Wayne North squad, leading for most of the opening three quarters.
However, the Indians were never able to put the game away, and that proved costly, as the Legends used a 27-point fourth quarter to defeat the Indians 77-73 at Fredenberger Court.
Leading 54-50 after the third quarter, the Indians struggled to knock down their shots in the fourth and were outmuscled on the boards, resulting in a plethora of second-chance opportunities. For the game, the Legends collected 10 offensive boards, and outscored the Indians 27-19 in the final frame to secure the victory.
“I think this was a game of letting a team stay to close to us,” Mississinewa Head Coach James Reed said. “We are a young team, so we still have to figure out the kinks of timing and offense, and when we need a good possession [after] losing our rhythm on the defensive end, we need to take our time. I was really proud of our guys with how they fought, but we have to make sure it’s not a game at the end of the game.”
Even though the Indians won the rebounding battle, 30-29, the Legends came away with the important rebounds at crucial stages in the contest, which allowed them to keep the game close and, ultimately, take control in its latter stages.
“It all broke down to rebounding. We won the rebounding battle, but they got the key ones, the offensive rebounds that really, really hurt,” Reed said. “We had talked about rebounding every day for the past week. We knew that was where we needed to focus. And we didn’t execute that part of the plan tonight.”
Despite the tough loss, Landen Swanner played the best game of his career, shining in every facet of his game. He finished with a career-high 34 points, knocking down shots from all the floor, while also collecting six rebounds. After scoring 14 points in the first quarter, he scored 12 in the fourth, helping the Indians get back into the contest late.
“Landen is going to have a fantastic season,” Reed said. “He’s just getting started. I was so happy that we could count on him to get the ball in the post and draw those fouls and execute. I’ve got to put him in more situations to be successful.”
Fort Wayne North opened the scoring with a triple, but Swanner’s 14-point burst helped the Indians take a 20-15 lead after the first quarter of play.
While the Indians never created much separation in the second quarter, leading by seven points or less the entire stanza, they did not give up the lead. McClung scored seven of his 11 points in the frame, while Hayden Ulerick scored six of his 11 to put the Indians up 36-33 at halftime.
Mississinewa looked to be in control in the first half of the third quarter, building their lead to as many as nine points at the 4:30 mark, but gradually, the momentum began to shift.
Little by little, the Legends continued to cut into the Indians’ advantage, answering each Mississinewa basket with one of their own. At the third quarter buzzer, Fort Wayne North’s Ryan Collins, who did not see much playing time until the second half, knocked down a three, making it a 54-50 Mississnewa lead heading into the final frame. That shot ended up changing the course of the contest, as Collins went on to knock down four more shots in the fourth quarter, three in the first three minutes. His third make of the quarter put the Legends up 64-59 – giving them a lead they would not relinquish.
“I didn’t think they had anybody that could shoot, and then he came in the second half,” Reed said. “I just adjusted late. We were in a zone, and we probably should have been in man in that situation. We lost him a few times, and after he hit, we didn’t focus on him, and we should have. Again, we let them be in the game and have momentum.”
The Indians came roaring back, cutting the Legends’ lead to 71-70 with just under two minutes to go, but Fort Wayne answered with six straight points to put the game away.
Along with Swanner’s 34 points and McClung’s and Ulerick’s 11, Colin Yoder scored nine points, Lucas Asbury scored five, and Donovan Betts finished with three.
For the Legends, Brauntae Johnson finished the game with 26 points, while Rodney Woods scored 12 and Jordan Green 11.
Mississinewa shot 25-of-50 from the field in the contest, good for 50 percent, but shot only four-of-15 in the final quarter.
“Every little part of the game matters,” Reed said. “Even though we had a lot of things covered in the first half, those little mistakes let them stay in the game. Then, when they got a run, and saw a chance to win, they were out for blood. That’s exactly what you do not want with an athletic team.”
While not the way that Reed envisioned the season would start, he and the Indians plan to use this game as a benchmark.
“Moving forward, we will learn from it,” Reed said. “We have lost nothing. We are going to learn from today, and we are going to move forward.”