By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — After last year’s three-win season, the Tippecanoe boys basketball team was in a hurry to turn things around.
Once they were on the court on opening night, though, they simply couldn’t slow down.
The Red Devils committed 23 turnovers, including a number of costly ones late after making quality plays like steals of their own, and the Butler Aviators were able to remain just calm enough to hold on for a 58-55 victory Friday night at Tippecanoe High School in both teams’ season opener.
“Twenty-three turnovers, that was the name of the game tonight,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Visser said. “They put some pressure on us, and we were somewhat tentative at times. And at other times, we were struggling to get organized.”
The Devils (0-1) have only been in practice together for a short time after the football team’s success in the fall, with many players unavailable until after fall season ended — and some key players still recovering from injuries suffered then.
“We’ve only been together for about a week, but that’s not an excuse,” Visser said. “Our effort was there tonight. The guys played hard, we shared the basketball — and we were able to play nine or 10 guys tonight, get significant minutes and contributions out of a lot of players. So things are looking up for us from here.”
In fact, Tippecanoe’s bench outscored Butler’s 31-7 in the game. Aaron Hughes led all scorers with 21 points and four rebounds for the Devils, hitting three 3s and going a perfect 8 for 8 from the free throw line — which was a trend for both teams.
More than half of the Devils’ points in the first half came from the free throw line in a foul-filled first two quarters that saw the score deadlocked at 30-30. Tippecanoe was 16 for 19 at the break, while Butler (1-0) was 9 for 14. The Aviators made them when they counted, though, going 6 for 8 in the fourth, including 4 for 4 in the game’s final minute to build a lead just big enough to withstand Tippecanoe’s rally attempts.
Zach Ledbetter led the Aviators with 18 points and six rebounds, going 6 for 8 from the line himself. Noah Ballard and Torin Fletcher each added 11 points, with Fletcher hitting a 3 right before the end of the third quarter to give Butler its biggest lead of the night, 44-37.
Tippecanoe responded, though, and quickly erased that lead. Hughes drilled a 3 to open the fourth, Hayden Mann hit Hughes for a fast break layup after Butler missed a pair of free throws and then Mann scored in transition himself to even the score at 44-44 with 7:02 left to play.
Ballard scored on a putback to give Butler a 48-46 lead and Tippecanoe had the ball stolen — only to have a player tap the ball free and another player dive on it and call timeout with 4:31 to go. But the Devils couldn’t do anything with the possession to even up the score, and Ledbetter hit a pair of free throws on the other end to make it 50-46 with 3:30 to play. A steal and layup by Ballard stretched the lead back to six at 52-46 with less than three minutes remaining.
Zach Bonifas hit Hughes for another 3, though, to keep the Devils alive, and a score by Joe Tesch inside kept it a one-possession game at 54-41 with 32.5 seconds left. But Fletcher hit a pair of free throws, then an offensive rebound and two free throws by Zach Wildermuth made the score 56-53. Ballard canned two more free throws to seal it, though, as Hughes scored one final bucket right before the buzzer.
Wildermuth finished with 10 points and four assists for the Devils, Tesch scored six points and Hayden and Carter Mann, Nathan Shirley and Adam Grieshop each scored four. Casey Kronour added two points.
“We’re going to hit our stride,” Visser said. “It’s just going to take some time. We’ve just got to continue to get better, mesh together and find our groove in our rotation. We just need to work together longer, but we will get there.”
Tippecanoe returns to action on Dec. 4, hosting Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division rival Kenton Ridge.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.