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Wabash's late rally falls short against Wayne

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

For the vast majority of the opening thirty minutes on Saturday afternoon, the Wabash boys’ basketball team had been underwhelming at home against Fort Wayne Wayne

But the final two minutes were executed so perfectly that it almost didn’t matter.

Falling behind 22-2 in the first quarter and trailing by double digits nearly all day including 52-35 with two minutes remaining, the Apaches’ 16-2 run in the final 1:42 nearly produced a memorable comeback. However, Jasper Walter’s three-pointer to send the game to overtime as time expired missed long and the Apaches dropped their second straight game, 54-51.

“This week, we just, I don’t know what it was, the first quarter we just didn’t show up,” Wabash head coach Paul Wright said. “When you play two really good teams, they’re going to make you pay. I was proud of how they ended. They executed the last three minutes perfectly. We practice that. I don’t know what it is because the first quarter hasn’t been a problem for us all year. To only score four points in two games in the first quarter, that’s a problem we have to fix. That’s what we talked about.

“Luckily, we have a month before sectional. We have a big week next week. We have conference games on Tuesday and Friday. We control our own destiny. They know that in there. We have to fix it by Tuesday or we’ll be in trouble.”

Wabash’s offensive woes on the day were highlighted in the opening six minutes of the fourth. The Generals wore down the hosts and scored the first six points capped off with a layup from Cam Starks to go ahead 52-35.

Walter’s three-pointer with 102 seconds remaining provided the first embers of a spark for Wabash. After Andre Beasley split his free throws, Logan Vander Velden would draw a foul and head to the line. The senior would make the first and miss the second, but Trenton Daughtry corralled the rebound and converted through a foul for a three-point play to pull within 11 at 53-42.

Quincy Miles would miss the front-end of a one-and-one for Wayne with 50.3 seconds left and Walter would connect on another long-range effort 10 seconds later to cut the margin to eight points. On the ensuing in-bounds after a timeout, Wabash would force Wayne into a turnover and Daughtry would find Vander Velden for a layup with 36.5 left.

The Apaches would foul Wayne with 28.8 left for another one-and-one opportunity with Starks missing the first attempt this time. Daughtry would draw a shooting foul at the rim and would convert both, making it a 53-49 lead with 23.7 left.

Michael Redding would step to the line for Wayne next and looked to have righted the ship after making the first free throw but the junior missed the second and Blake Gribben would tip home a missed three with 9.3 seconds left to pull Wabash to within a possession at 54-51.

One last time Wayne would head to the line with 7.5 seconds left with two attempts. Redding, though, capped off a woeful performance from Wayne at the line late, missing both free throws. Daughtry would race upcourt and find Walter open for a three-point to tie the game but the sophomore’s attempt was long and Wayne would survive to hang on for the win.

“That’s stuff that we practice,” Wright said of the final two minutes. “Today was really the first time all year (we needed it), and in the Southwood game in the County championship we executed well, but we practice that once or twice a week. I told them in (the locker room) that was excellent. Teams want to foul but we want to go for the ball. I was pleased at how we executed. We got the shot we wanted at the end. I was right behind him. It looked like it was going in. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Wabash’s wild rally was only necessary after a poor start in the opening quarter for the second-straight contest. After falling behind 17-3 in the first quarter in their last game against Mississinewa, Wabash allowed a 22-0 run from the General after scoring the opening basket on Saturday.

By the time Wabash exited the first quarter, the hosts trailed 22-4. Wright would turn to a lineup of bench players along with Vander Velden, though, that provided a spark. Vander Velden started the period off with a score that was matched by Redding.

The Apaches, though, scored the next 12 points as Wyatt Davis, Kallen Kelsheimer and Walter scored while Jesse Allison rounded out a lineup that closed an 18-point deficit down to six at 24-18.

“I think they did an excellent job of (providing) a spark,” Wright said of his lineup in the second quarter. “They practice hard just like everyone else does. Today, they were the reason why we were able to keep it close. I told them in there I was happy with how they fought back but Wyatt Davis and Jesse Allison…and Joe Leland and Jasper Walter gave us excellent minutes today. I thought Logan (Vander Velden) played a heck of a game. He didn’t come out the entire game. He had to guard (Craig Young). I thought he did a great job.”

Craig Young, an Ohio State football commit, made his impact on the game, scoring the next two baskets for the Generals as Wayne closed the quarter with the final eight points to restore a double-digit lead at 32-18.

Wabash would close the deficit down marginally heading into the fourth after winning the third period 17-14 but Wayne’s start to the final period negated that advantage.

The Apaches shot just 30 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc on the day. Daughtry finished with a game-high 16 points while Vander Velden had 13 points. Elijah Vander Velden pulled down 10 rebounds.

In the two losses on the week, Wabash managed 52 and 51 points after scoring 80 points in three of the previous five games before that. For Wright, learning how to overcome some of those weaknesses will be the key to the two losses.

“Well, the biggest thing is it’s two losses against two really good teams,” Wright said. “And so our biggest thing is our mental preparation just wasn’t here this week. I know it was a weird week, but I told them in there it was a weird week for Fort Wayne Wayne. So that’s not an excuse. In February every team knows every team’s weakness. Both teams really showed some of our weaknesses which other coaches are going to ask for the film so in practice we have to work on that.”

Wabash (12-3) will return to Three Rivers Conference play on Tuesday when they travel to Tippecanoe Valley.