In sports, as in life, success and greatness are born of adversity.
And the Mississinewa Indians have faced plenty in the first half of the 2020-2021 season.
In the five games leading up to the annual Grant Four boys basketball tournament, the Indians finished 2-3, dropping a pair of games on the final possession, as well as suffering one of their worst defeats of the James Reed era – a 64-51 setback, at home, to the Madison-Grant Argylls back on December 18, ending a 13-game winning streak against their longtime rival.
However, instead of wilting, the Indians rose to the occasion, making it a priority to reconnect with one another, rediscover their defensive prowess, and most importantly, regain the confidence that has played such an important role in Mississinewa’s recent success.
“Last time we played them, we got off to a slow start, and we got down on ourselves,” Swanner said. “We had to make sure that we came in more prepared for this game, and I think we did.”
All three of those factors played dividends on Tuesday night in the Grant Four Championship, as Mississinewa found redemption, and made history, in a 48-45 triumph over the Argylls.
With the victory, Mississinewa won their third straight county title, becoming the first ever three-peat champion in the illustrious history of the Grant Four tournament.
“I could not be more proud of the guys we have,” Reed said. “We didn’t three-peat Grant Four because of me. It was because of the guys that we have and the ability to buy in and play together.”
Knowing that the Argylls would hold a psychological edge, it was imperative that the Indians got off to a strong start in the first quarter, and they did just that, playing with a fire that they did not have in the first matchup.
“Mississinewa played with a little different level of intensity then they did the first time. I don’t think there is any question about that,” Madison-Grant Head Coach Kevin Cherry said. “They were really good defensively.”
“We were physically ready, but we weren’t mentally prepared,” McClung added. “We came into this game mentally prepared and ready to win the game.”
The two teams battled throughout the opening eight minutes. Tai McClung scored the Indians’ first two baskets, while the Argylls countered with Kaden Howell, who scored eight points in the first quarter to give Madison-Grant a 15-13 lead. In the process, Howell recorded his 1,000th point, becoming the 11th Argyll in school history to reach that milestone.
The turning point of the contest came in the second quarter. Trailing 22-15 after a Jase Howell triple with 5:30 to play before halftime, the Indians turned up their defensive intensity, holding the Argylls off the scoreboard for the remainder of the first half.
“In the first game, they hit a lot of threes,” Reed said. “We were letting them drive to the middle of the paint and then kick it out to the three. This game, I told them to keep them out of the middle. They came out and executed the plan so well.”
The Indians ended the first half on a 12-0 run, turning a six-point deficit into a five-point lead. Sophomore Donovan Betts was the catalyst, knocking down two crucial triples – one to start the run, and one that gave Mississinewa an advantage they would not relinquish.
“In this game, a huge game…those two threes, that’s where we were able to separate,” Reed said. “Obviously, everyone was doing a lot of things, but those two threes, we had to have. For him to make those, that’s what championship teams do.”
The run continued into the third quarter, increasing to 17-0, as Landen Swanner scored the first five points of the second half to put the Indians up by 10. Swanner, who was essentially a non-factor in the December 18 matchup, was all over the floor on Tuesday night, leading the Indians with 19 points, eight of which came in the third quarter.
“It was tough, but I got some back door [looks,]” Swanner said. “[Grant Brown] took away the three, so I had a lot of drives to the basket. I just drove a little bit more.”
The Argylls, however, continued to battle throughout the second half, chipping away at the Mississinewa lead little by little. After cutting the Indians’ advantage to six points after three quarters, an 8-0 run to begin the fourth, which included a three-point play by Jackson Manwell, a three by Howell, and a pair of free throws by Justin Moore, tied the contest at 40-40 with 4:30 to play.
But despite this adversity, the Indians never wavered.
“We just told ourselves to stick to the gameplan, be patient, and get stops,” Swanner said. “We executed at the end.”
Colin Yoder and Hayden Ulerick answered Moore’s free throws with back-to-back baskets, and Swanner added another field goal at the 2:16 mark to put Mississinewa back up six.
Moore hit another pair of free throws just 14 seconds later, and Howell followed with another three to cut the advantage to 46-45, but that was as close as the Argylls would get. A crucial turnover underneath the basket prevented Madison-Grant from taking the lead, and McClung scored the final, emphatic bucket with 18 seconds left to secure Mississinewa’s victory.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the consistency that we had as a team tonight,” Reed said. “There were very few moments that we let up.”
Tuesday night’s loss was the first for Madison-Grant, who had entered the contest with an unblemished 7-0 record. However, despite the defeat, Cherry was proud of his team’s tenacious effort and their unflagging growth — both consistently on display in each passing game.
“Our team was good today,” Cherry said. “I thought we took a step forward as a program. Our goal…was to put ourselves in a position to win the Grant Four, and we did that. I love our locker room, and I love our culture. I love our togetherness and the way we play for each other. There is not another locker room in the state I would trade for the one I have.”
Along with Swanner’s 19, McClung finished with nine points, while Betts and Lucas Asbury each finished with six points off the bench.
For Madison-Grant, Howell finished the contest with 17 points, while Moore added 11 and Jase Howell collected seven.