After 19 wins and their second-ever outright CIC championship, it all came down to Saturday night, as the Mississinewa Indians anticipated their first sectional championship since 1954.
However, despite a strong second-half effort after falling behind by double-digits in the first two quarters, the Indians’ goal of obtaining that ever-elusive championship fell just short in a 46-43 loss to the Norwell Knights.
“Unfortunately, we had a period of time in the first half where we were playing good basketball, but shots weren’t falling,” Mississinewa Head Coach James Reed said. “Then, [Norwell] hit a few shots. I thought we played well. I thought we had a good gameplan, and I thought our guys left everything on the floor.”
Mississinewa’s efficient offense, which had been a key part to their success all season, uncharacteristically struggled in the first two quarters. The Indians shot just nine-of-26 from the field (34 percent) and zero-of-four from the perimeter.
“Norwell did an outstanding job taking away me and Landen Swanner and really taking away Tai McClung,” Mississinewa senior point guard Anthony Horton said. “They did a pretty good job with that.”
Meanwhile, the Knights’ offense clicked on all cylinders in the first two quarters, knocking down 12 of their 19 field goal attempts (63.1 percent) and two of their five looks from deep (40 percent).
“They’re very well coached,” Reed said of Norwell. “We knew this was going to be a very even matchup coming into it, and whoever had that first momentum run was really going to be in control of this game.”
The Indians took an early lead at 6-2 with 4:24 to in the first quarter, but the Knights quickly settled into their rhythm on both ends of the floor.
Norwell did an excellent job of taking away Mississinewa’s offense underneath the basket, making it nearly impossible for the Indians to establish any sort of post presence.
“It took us a second to figure out what to do with the way they were playing defense,” Reed said. “Our guys figured it out – we just couldn’t get the shots to fall.”
The Knights took advantage, using a 10-0 run and holding the Indians scoreless for over four minutes. Horton stopped the bleeding with 20.9 seconds left, notching a steal-and-score to make it a 12-8 Norwell lead after the first quarter.
Norwell continued to hit their shots in the second quarter. Freshman Luke McBride scored seven of his team-leading 14 points in the frame, and the Indians found themselves trailing 28-14 with less than three minutes to play in the first half. The Indians ended the quarter on a 5-0 run, but they still faced an nine-point, 28-19 deficit at halftime.
After a rough opening, the Indians could have easily thrown in the towel and coasted to the end.
But they quickly proved that they would not go down without a fight.
Landen Swanner, who scored just two points in the first half, exploded for seven points in the third quarter to cut the Knights’ lead to just five points with 2:09 remaining in the frame. Trey Miles followed with a free throw, which made it 36-32 after three quarters of play.
After falling behind by as many as 11, the Indians ended the quarter on a 11-4 run.
“In the second half, we came out with more defensive intensity than we did in the first half,” Horton said. “That played a role in [helping] us come back.”
The Indians continued their comeback effort in the fourth, cutting the Knight’s advantage to two points on multiple occasions, but Norwell also had an answer.
Miles opened the fourth with a field goal to make it 36-34, but McBride responded with a converted three-point play on the other end, increasing Norwel’s lead back to five.
With 3:45 remaining, a three-point play for Tai McClung again made it a one-possession game, but a basket underneath from Will Geiger and a pair of free throws from Conner Torson put the Knights back up by six.
In the final seconds, with the Indians trailing by three, Swanner’s potential game-tying three was blocked by Norwell’s Eli Riley, ending what was a tremendous season for Mississinewa boys basketball.
“When you go down 10 points to Norwell, that’s a lot of possessions,” Reed said. “Our goal was to get it back to four. We did that at halftime. I felt that we had control of the game, but Norwell just made a couple of more plays than us.”
We had the ball in the person’s hands that we wanted. And again, Norwell just made a play at the right time. That’s what happens. You have to be the team that makes the play last.”
Swanner led the Indians with 11 points, while Horton ended his storied Mississinewa career with 10 points.
While the season ended before many thought it would, it does not diminish the Indians’ accomplishments this season.
They won 19 games. They won another Grant Four championship. They defeated longtime rival Marion for only the fifth time in school history in their season opener.
And most importantly, they shared an unbreakable bond with one another, earning the distinction as one of the top boys’ basketball teams Mississinewa has ever had.
“I am so proud of these guys,” Reed said. “This one is on me, not the kids. I should have had a better adjustment. I should have gone to the press earlier. We could have done a lot of things differently.
“But our kids absolutely bought in and did everything that we asked them to do. I could not be more proud of them. We learned a lot. We got better. We got tougher. I couldn’t be happier about the relationships and the progress our kids have made this season. I’m really excited about our future, and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys tonight.”
Horton, Miles, Bryce Oglesby, and Bryce Luedtke each played their final game as a Mississinewa Indian on Saturday, and each player will be greatly missed. Their contributions to Mississinewa basketball will certainly be felt in the years to come.
“[Horton’s] drive, his ability, [and] his focus are next level,” Reed said. “I can’t wait to see the future he has, but I’m going to miss that guy on the court who knows how to sniff things out and figure things out. There is not a person in the state of Indiana who can stay in front of that kid. I could not be more proud of him.
“Trey and Bryce have given so much to this school and to this program,” Reed said. “It’s really hard to come in as a senior on an established team and make an impact and there not be jealousy. But they came in and were two of the best individuals. They raised our character. They held guys accountable. They were great leaders, and great basketball players in the process.”
Mississinewa ends the season with a 19-5 record.