By AARON KENNEDY
ROSSVILLE – As expected, Friday night’s game between county rivals alone atop the West Division of the Hoosier Heartland Conference came down to the final possession.
Down by two points with 23 seconds left to play, the Rossville Hornets had a chance to win the game or extend it into overtime but missed two open shots from the perimeter and then a last-second desperation toss at the basket. The clock ran out on the Hornets, and the Class A No. 8 Clinton Prairie escaped Rossville with a 64-62 win.
It was the eighth consecutive win for the Gophers, who haven’t lost since their season opener at Frankfort.
It was also a homecoming for former Rossville head coach and teacher Jeff Henley, who is in his first year coaching at Clinton Prairie.
“I knew I was going to see a lot of old friends. I knew I was going to see a lot of my former students. I got to, and it was great seeing them,” Henley said. “I knew it would be a really difficult game to win. But, I thought our kids hung in there again and played well. I am just glad we got the win, and it’s time to move on.”
Trailing 64-59 with 30 seconds remaining, Jared Warren hit a 3-pointer to cut the Clinton Prairie lead to 64-62, and Rossville head coach Cory Dunn immediately called a timeout. Rossville’s decision to foul when play resumed paid off when Drew Scott missed the front end of a 1-and-1. The Hornets brought the ball up the court for the final possession but couldn’t do anything with it despite offensive rebounds giving them a second and third chance.
“They just made a few more plays than us,” Dunn said. “We talked about poised before the game. We didn’t have very good poise on a few key possessions. I take some of the blame on that. That falls on me. I wish I would have taken that time out – the last one I had. We ran the play, we got the ball where we wanted and got some good looks. But still, guys were trying to shoot 3s, and we didn’t have to have a 3. That’s on me. That’s a coaching decision. It’s a gamble.
“Credit Clinton Prairie,” Dunn added. “They played a hard game. They knew what they wanted to attack, and they did a nice job.”
The Hornets would not go away in the game, surging back each time the Gophers built a lead of eight or more points.
Clinton Prairie scored the first eight points of the game, but the Hornets ended the first period with a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Enrique Rangel and opened the second period with a 3 from Blake Miller to cut the deficit to two points at 15-13. When Prairie went on an 8-point run to lead 25-15 soon afterward, Rossville was able to chip it down to 2 with a minute left in the opening half, and Miller nailed another 3 to give the Hornets the lead – their only one of the game – at halftime.
“I told our kids it is important that we get off to a good start,” Henley said. “We got off to an 8-0 start, so we were OK then. I knew we were going to be fine. I thought we did a really nice job defensively in the first quarter. Some of the shots they were taking were difficult shots. Twice in the second quarter, we had an eight or 10 points lead and didn’t extend it, and they hit a 3 to go up by one.”
Junior point guard Jared Stillwell hit started the second half off with a 3-pointer and scored eight of his game-high 23 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
“Our kids came right back out in the third quarter,” Henley said. “Jared hit a couple 3s and got us going. But, something that hurts us two or three times, we get leads but then we don’t get a defensive rebound, and then the team puts it back in. Rossville really hurt us on the offensive glass tonight, and it almost cost us in the end.”
Prairie was outrebounded 35-27 and 16-2 on the offensive glass, but the Gophers shot 60 percent from the field, compared to 38 percent for the Hornets.
“I thought the main thing was that we showed poise throughout,” Henley said. “We never got frustrated or were nervous. We did a really nice job taking care of the ball for the most part. It was just a really nice team win.
“(The Hornets) are a really good team,” he added. “They are well-coached. They play hard, and they are smart. I think both teams actually mirror each other a lot in those respects.”
Scott had 18 points and four assists in the win, while Kale Morris finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The only 3-pointer Miller missed as the one that would have been for the win in the final seconds, as the junior went 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and led the Hornets with 20 points and seven rebounds.
“He single-handedly kept us in the game on the offensive end, and he played a really good game defensively,” Dunn said. “That is about as good as we have ever seen him play. We harp on him playing defense a lot this year. He has really put his mind to playing some defense, and it showed tonight.”
Jared Warren came off the bench to add 15 points and five rebounds, while Howard added eight points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The junior varsity game that started the night off was an even closer contest. Clinton Prairie’s JV squad defeated Rossville in overtime 54-53.
Both teams played again Saturday, and Dunn was eager to put the Hornets’ emotional loss behind them.
“Right now, we have to make sure we focus on Delphi,” he said. “We can’t come off a tough loss like this and have it affect us the next night.”
GOPHERS 64, HORNETS 62
Joseph 1 1-2 3, Morris 5 2-2 12, Price 2 0-0 5, Scott 8 1-4 18, Stillwell 8 3-3 23, Stroup 1 0-0 2, Schoonveld 0 1-2 1. Totals – 25 3-13 64.
Howard 4 0-0 8, Mohler 1 0-0 2, Miller 7 1-1 20, Rangel 2 0-0 6, Homco 1 2-2 4, Warren 6 1-2 15, Tonsoni 1 0-0 2, Whiteman 2 1-1 5. 24 5-6 62.
Clinton Prairie 15 17 18 14 – 64
Rossville 10 23 11 18 – 62
3-Point Goals – Clinton Prairie 6 (Stillwell 4, Scott, Price), Rossville 9 (Miller 5, Warren 2, Rangel 2). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – Clinton Prairie 27 (Morris 12), Rossville 35 (Howard 8). Total fouls – Clinton Prairie 8, Rossville 15.