Sophomore Trai Davis of Warsaw drives to the basket as Terrence Reid of Washington defends during Wednesday night's game. Photos by Gary Nieter
Sophomore Trai Davis of Warsaw drives to the basket as Terrence Reid of Washington defends during Wednesday night's game. Photos by Gary Nieter
After defeating South Bend Washington by nearly 40 points in last year’s Tiger Holiday Classic, the Warsaw boys basketball team found themselves in a much closer, much more defensive minded game Wednesday night against the Panthers in the final game of the 2022 version of the tournament. When the final buzzer sounded, it was South Bend Washington avenging last season’s drubbing with a 51-44 win. Warsaw is now 5-4.

“I’m not disappointed in the effort at all but we need to find a way to make plays,” Warsaw head coach Matt Moore said. “We were measured and tested and unfortunately we didn’t come out victorious but we learned a lot about this team.”

The game’s defensive intensity was apparent from the opening tip and didn’t go away at all throughout the course of the game for either side. Players wishing to take the ball past the midcourt line would have to beat two to three defenders or come up with some crafty passing. Each ball handler was met at the perimeter by a defender who instantly outstretched the arms and put on the clamps. Scoring came at a premium, but with all of the physical play going around, fouls did not. Both teams reached the bonus early in the second quarter.

The Tigers would make the first basket of the game, a three pointer off of the hands of Brandt Martin. The Panthers would answer by scoring the next six points to take their first lead of the game. With both team’s intensity being felt throughout the gym, the Tigers battled back to tie the game on two separate occasions as both teams headed toward the second quarter tied at nine.

Throughout the first half of the second period, Warsaw was able to find some holes in the Washington defense and converted the opportunities into points. Holding on to its second lead of the night and the largest for either team up to that point at seven, the Tiger defense got even tougher, but could not help from fouling. The Panthers converted their free throws and were able to trim the lead to two before halftime, where it would remain until the buzzer marking the end of the first sixteen minutes sounded.

The visitors would respond in a big way at the start of the second half. Washington began the third quarter on a 9-4 run, forcing Warsaw to call an early second-half timeout. The defensive tenacity remained on full display for the Panthers, as a handful of the team’s offense was generated on easy transition points that came off of forced turnovers. On the other end, the Tiger defense began showing holes as the visitors were suddenly able to cut to the rim with ease for lightly contested layups.

“Being able to dribble the ball with a defender in your face is a skill that our guys really need to work on right now,” Moore said. “The consistent factor these last two games has been physicality and I don’t know if our guys understand right now the level of work that has to go into practice to be ready for this.”

With everything going the Panthers’ way, the visitors took a five-point lead into the final quarter. In the opening minutes, the deficit would continue to grow for Warsaw until a momentum change about three minutes in. Sophomore Carson Gould would make a layup, which would be followed by his brother Jaxson stealing the inbound pass and putting in another layup to make it four quick points. Now in a one-possession game, the Tiger defense would stiffen once again.

The late surge would not be enough. Over the next three minutes of play, Warsaw would make just one more shot from the field while the visitors added to their lead once more. Fitting the theme of the game, it was a few lockdown possessions by the Panthers at the end of the game that sealed the deal.

Drew Heckaman led Warsaw in scoring with 13 points. Trai Davis recorded seven boards to pace the team.

The Tigers will be back in early 2023 when the team hosts Northern Lakes Conference foe Northridge on Friday, Jan. 6.

“We’ve both been tested by some pretty tough teams in recent weeks, and we’re about to come together and see where we’re at,” Moore said. “It doesn’t get easier but I’m excited for our direction.”