By Josh Brown
SPRINGFIELD — With the score tied 53-53 and 1:32 left, Tippecanoe didn’t know whether or not Springfield Shawnee would let them hold the ball for the final shot, whether the Braves would continue to foul to put the Red Devils on the line and get the ball back for their own last shot or whether they’d let Tippecanoe run one final play and hope for overtime.
But Zach Wildermuth knew one thing — he wanted the ball.
“In that last timeout with 6.2 seconds left, he told me ‘coach, I give me the shot. I’ll make it,” Tippecanoe first-year coach Joel Visser said.
Jakob Prall drove and drew the defense, kicking to a wide-open Wildermuth — who buried his third 3 of the fourth quarter as time expired to give the top-seeded Red Devils (15-8) a thrilling 56-53 victory over division rival and No. 3 seed Springfield Shawnee in the opening round of the Division II boys basketball sectional tournament Saturday at Springfield High School.
“I was feeling it in the second half,” Wildermuth said. “I was confident I could make the shot. It feels great.”
It was the Devils’ second win over the Braves (15-8) in three tries this season. Tippecanoe won the first meeting 48-43, but the Braves got payback by winning in overtime 53-48 in the season’s final week.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Visser said. “The first time, it was a two-possession game. The second time, it was a one-possession game and we had the ball, much like tonight. With 16 seconds left tonight, we didn’t know if they were going to keep fouling or let us run a play. Then Zach told me he wanted the ball. He said he’d make the shot, and he did.”
Saturday’s game featured seven lead changes and three ties, with Tippecanoe maintaining control most of the way. After trailing 15-8 to end the first quarter — thanks to a buzzer-beating 3 by the Braves’ Wes Doyle — the Devils outscored the Braves 24-14 in the second to take a 32-29 halftime lead and held a 39-36 advantage going into the fourth.
Wildermuth’s first 3 of the fourth gave the Devils their biggest lead at 42-36, but Shawnee continued to fight back thanks to the post presence of Seth Gray. Gray scored 13 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter, twice sinking a pair of free throws to tie the score — including a pair to make it 53-53 with 1:32 to play.
Tippecanoe ran the clock down to 1:04 before calling timeout, then called another timeout with 16.2 seconds to go after Shawnee began to take advantage of the fact that it had five fouls to give before the Devils even got a chance at a one-and-one. After one more foul with 6.2 seconds left, the Devils called one final timeout to set up the final play.
“Zach’s a big-time playmaker for us,” said Prall, who scored 16 points in the game and hurt the Braves on the drive all night long. “I knew the defense would collapse on me when I drove, so I kicked to him and he just drained it.
“To get this win is huge for us. We knew it’d be a battle from the start and it’d be all about execution. We just knew we had to keep possession for the last shot, and we just made the last play.”
Wildermuth finished with a team-high 18 points, with 13 of them coming in the second half. Aaron Hughes added 12 points, Carter Mann had six points and six rebounds, Zach Bonifas had two points, five rebounds and two assists and Joe Tesch had two points and five rebounds.
“Zach’s been that guy for us all season,” Visser said. “He can dribble-drive, he can defend and he can hit the big shot. He’s a really good all-around player for us. And for us, it’s been a different guy every night. We don’t care who gets it done, we just play unselfish basketball and play defense.”
“The coaches do a great job of preparing us for whoever we’re playing,” Wildermuth said. “Someone different steps up for us in every game. It makes us really hard to scout. It just feels really great to get this win.”
Gray finished with 30 points to lead Springfield Shawnee, Nathan Bostick scored nine, Doyle had six and Billy Lord chipped in five.
Tippecanoe advances to the second round to face No. 3 Ben Logan Tuesday at Springfield.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.