Heading into Friday night’s Sectional 23 semifinal contest at Norwell, James Reed and the Mississinewa Indians were keenly aware of their significant size advantage over the Heritage Patriots.
In fact, only one player in Heritage’s rotation was over six feet tall, while the rest hovered between 5’8” and 5’11”.
Needless to say, Mississinewa took advantage.
Behind a remarkable performance from Tai McClung, together with another stout defensive effort in the first half, the Indians punched their ticket to the Sectional 23 championship game with a 70-50 victory over the Patriots.
Over the first three quarters, McClung could not be stopped. The junior center scored 23 points in the contest, 18 of which came in the first half, and missed only one shot.
“We got it inside to Tai pretty early, and he really dominated,” Reed said. “He’s just really come alive lately, and when he brings the energy, that is such a big bonus for our team.”
While McClung scored the basketball with ease, the Indians’ defense completely locked down the Heritage offense, allowing just seven field goals in the first two quarters of play.
“We’ve really been searching for our energy the last month, and I think in the second quarter [against] Oak Hill, we finally found it,” Reed said. “I don’t think we are totally back in rhythm like we were midway through the season… but our guys are confident again. They believe in themselves, they believe in their teammates, and they are focused on each other. I can’t ask for anything more right now.”
McClung started the contest with a three-point play, and from that moment on, the Indians rolled. Mississinewa hit their first five shots of the contest to build a 12-4 lead, and back-to-back baskets from McClung moments put the Indians up by double digits at 16-6.
The Indians continued to play efficient offense throughout the first quarter, making 11 of their 14 shots in the frame to take a 27-9 lead after the first eight minutes. McClung shot six-of-six, scoring 13 points with minimal resistance.
“Our biggest goal is to come out with energy and play hard,” McClung said. “That’s what we did tonight, and we came out with a big win.”
The Indians’ scoring slowed down significantly in the second quarter, but they continued to hold the Heritage in offense in check, allowing just seven points in the frame. McClung scored five of Mississinewa’s 11 points in the frame, and the Indians took a 38-16 lead into the halftime break.
While Mississinewa’s play on both ends of the floor was stellar, their dominance on the glass was evident in the first two quarters. The Indians finished with 22 rebounds in the first half, while the Patriots collected only six.
“It’s hard to play against us because we run in transition so well,” Reed said. “When they shot the ball, they were sending three back to make sure that we couldn’t run, and that opened up a lot of rebounding for us.”
Despite a 24-point third quarter outburst from the Patriots, Mississinewa’s double-digit lead was never threatened, as they countered with 26 points and 10 made field goals of their own. Bryce Oglesby had a huge quarter off the bench, scoring seven of his nine points, while McClung added two more field goals to increase the Indians’ lead to 24.
Mississinewa’s deep bench played the entire fourth quarter, but their advantage remained intact, setting up a showdown with host Norwell in the championship game.
“I couldn’t be more excited with where we are at,” Reed said. “We’ve got nothing to lose tomorrow, Norwell’s got everything to lose. When our team comes fearless with nothing to lose, look out.
“We’ve got to bring the energy, focus on each other, and [play] with toughness and grit. I think we are going to do that.”
For the contest, Mississinewa shot 29-of-49 (59.1 percent) from the field, while holding the Patriots to just 21-of-50 (42 percent) from the floor. Along with McClung’s 23 points, Landen Swanner finished with 11, while Anthony Horton finished with nine.