On a cold miserable early January night in Indianapolis, the Trailblazers traveled to the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School and were handed a sound 71-47 beating by the Tindley Tigers. However, on a cold but not entirely miserable March evening, the story was a little bit different.
I knew all along we could hang with Tindley and that the 24 point beating on Meadows Drive in January was just a fluke. I’ll be honest though, I was definitely nervous. Without second-leading scorer and emotional leader Kevin Bates on the floor, I knew it would be tough to knock off the sectional favorite seeking the school’s first boys sectional crown. If we were going to win this, we needed a game plan that would work, a game plan that would frustrate Tindley, and a game plan that would give us a chance to win the game late. And damnit did we do that.
Four plays that changed the game…
On a night like Saturday, it’s hard to sit down and say that the game came down to four plays, but these are the four that stand out to me as reasons the Blazers are champs.
1 — Eric Wott’s two three-pointers in the middle of the second quarter. The Blazers were on the verge of letting this one get away—the Tigers had been up 6 and would have made it 8 or maybe 10 if not for Wott’s big shots at the offensive end.
2 — Dominic Dixon’s three-pointer at the first half buzzer to give the Trailblazers a one-point lead. University gained the momentum and belief they could win the game here at this bucket. We’ll talk more about Dominic Dixon’s other three-pointer late in a half later…
3 — Noah Matthew’s block at the end of the third quarter. This is a play that might not get as much love as the other ones but it was a huge play in the game. Tindley was up 6 and had a lay-up to make it 8 right before the end of the quarter (not to mention the fact that the Tigers were getting the ball out of the timeout). The block, much like Wott’s big threes, kept University hanging around in this game.
4 — And of course, like I’m not going to talk about the game-winning shot. Dominic Dixon lost his defenders on the inbounds pass and spotted up for a three. It went, giving the Blazers the 39-38 lead with :04.6 left on the clock.
The Tigers led 14-7 at the quarter break—their largest lead for either team of the evening—and led 18-12 midway through the second quarter. But a 9-2 Blazer run in the last five minutes of the quarter gave University a crucial 21-20 lead at the half. Tindley played a good third quarter, going up 33-27, but left points on the board by not converting on their last possession of the quarter (they failed to convert four chances at the end of the first quarter as well). Then the pandemonium ensued.
The Blazers came out in a zone defense to start the fourth quarter and when Tindley held the ball to try and get the Blazers out of it, UHS didn’t budge. Eventually the Blazers came out to guard the ball at the point. But instead of going for the dagger the first few possessions of the fourth quarter, Tindley tried to run clock. And generally, the Blazers were fine with sticking around. Anthony Maranto, Sam Forkin, and Eric Wott hit big shots (Forkin and Maranto each had two of the team’s nine three pointers made on the evening, Wott had three) to get the Blazers within one with a minute to play at 37-36. The Tigers missed a front end of a one-and-one with :29.8 on the clock before the Blazers turned it back over with around 17 seconds to play. The Tigers then hit the front end but missed the back end of their next one-and-one and after they gave their fouls to give, the Blazers had the ball on the sideline in front of the Blaze Craze with :08.2 to play.
After a couple of seconds went by with the Blazers not getting the ball in, Dominic Dixon broke towards the sideline and lost his defender. He took a step back and pulled up for the three. Nothing but net. Clutch. But it wasn’t over yet, as :04.6 remained on the clock. Tindley inbounded the ball to star guard TJ Henderson out of the timeout, but Henderson couldn’t manage anything better than a contested 35-foot-jump shot that fell short of the basket and into, fittingly enough, Dominic Dixon’s hands.
69% of the Blazers’ points (27 of the 39) came on three-pointers last night, a season high. I guess you live and die by the three-pointer, eh? Dominic Dixon led the Blazers with 13 points and 15 rebounds—his 22nd straight game in double-figures and 13th double-double of the year (it was his 4th in a row). Eric Wott’s hit at least 3 three-pointers in each of his last 6 games and is now averaging double-figures. He’s first in Class A and fourth in the state in three-pointers made after going 14/26 from behind the arc during the sectional. He leads the IHSAA in three-point percentage among players with at least 100 attempts and is fourth in the IHSAA among players with at least 60 attempts. Dixon is fifth in the IHSAA in total rebounding and third in the IHSAA in offensive rebounding.
The Blazers (13-11) match up with Baptist Academy (13-11) in the semi-final of Regional 15, hosted by Martinsville High School, Saturday morning at 10:00 AM. The Chargers are a very similar team to the Blazers—they also got over 50% of their points Saturday night from the three ball—having entered with a similar record. The Blazers will hope to use their post game in conjunction with the perimeter game to progress over a Charger team with quite a few quality wins on the year. The winner will advance to Saturday’s Regional 15 final against either Clay City (15-8) or Jac-Cen-Del (8-15) at 8:00 PM.
Tickets are $7 for a single session or $10 for both sessions, and a fan bus will be available for both games. The $10 tickets will go on pre-sale later this week and $10 sectional champion commemorative t-shirts will also be available later in the week. A pep rally will be held for the team on Friday at 2:45 PM in Skilling Andrews Hall, and all members of the University community will be invited to join in the celebration of our back-to-back champion Trailblazers.