Twice before Shawnee’s 55-40 win over Elida in a Division II boys basketball district semifinal Wednesday night at Ohio Northern, the Indians and Bulldogs had played close games this season.
Shawnee was a 49-47 winner last month at Lappin Gymnasium and won the championship game of the Tip-Off Classic 49-43 the first weekend of the season.
So, what happened this time? Defense happened. Lots of it. Combine that with some long stretches where Elida struggled to produce any offense whatever it tried and the result was a second consecutive trip to a district championship game for Shawnee.
The Indians (22-2) will play Van Wert (16-9) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Northern for the district championship.
The Cougars beat Defiance 27-25 in overtime in Wednesday night’s other semifinal. They got the winning points on a lob pass from Owen Treece to Nate Place for a bucket with three seconds on the clock in OT. Then after a Defiance timeout Blake Henry intercepted the in-bounds pass to seal the win.
George Mangas scored 26 points to lead Shawnee. Tyson Elwer had 9 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
Dante Wheeler led Elida (14-11) with 20 points on a night when the Bulldogs shot 15 percent in the first half (4 of 27), 17 percent in the first three quarters (7 of 41) and 24 percent in the game (12 of 50).
“I thought our defense, except for a stretch late in the first quarter and early in the second, was tremendous,” Shawnee coach Mark Triplett said. “We mixed some things up on them defensively and our kids bought into it.”
Specifically, Shawnee played a lot of box-and-one and a triangle-and-two, with the 6-foot, 6-inch Wheeler as the target of those specialty defenses.
“We thought if we could contain Wheeler and limit the other guys we were going to be in pretty good shape and our guys did a heck of a job defensively,” Triplett said.
Elida coach Denny Thompson said, “In the first half if we had just had somebody step up and make some shots we’re right there.
“I thought our effort was good. I don’t think we were caught up with the enormity of the game. I thought we were relaxed. We just needed somebody to make shots. You can’t shoot like that and win games. Not at this point in time,” he said.
Shawnee’s lead was only eight points, 25-17, at halftime despite Elida’s offensive struggles. But by the end of the third quarter, the Indians had opened up a 17-point advantage, 42-25. That lead grew to as many as 19 points three times in the fourth quarter.
“We wore them down. They were tired in the second half,” Mangas said. “We had to keep pushing it in transition and get easy lay-ups.”
The 6-foot, 3-inch sophomore is Shawnee’s leading scorer at 17 points a game in his first season as a starter. He was 11 of 14 on field goals Wednesday night.
Shawnee pushed the ball up the floor repeatedly and Elwer, a 6-foot, 5-inch sophomore, rejected shots at a pace that surprised him when he looked at the official stats after the game.
“It’s a lot more than I thought it was,” he said of the 10 blocks he was credited with. “If I’d hit that free throw it would have been a triple double. We could have played better but we still got the win.”
Thompson said Elwer’s work around the rim allowed Shawnee’s other defenders to do more things.
“He did a really nice job of protecting the basket. It’s a lot easier to play defense aggressively when you’ve got a guy back there who is a rim protector. He did a good job,” the Elida coach said.
Shawnee’s three senior starters this year – Johnny Caprella, Justin Behnke and Sheridan O’Neal – were starters last season when the Indians were district runner-up to Wauseon.
Triplett said their willingness to let Mangas and Elwer take center stage has been a key component of Shawnee’s success this season.
“I think our guys have bought in all year. It’s the most unselfish team I’ve been a part of, playing or coaching. We have a pretty talented senior class but they couldn’t care less who gets the glory,” he said. “Our seniors have bought into that unselfishness all year and have kind of taken these young guys under their wing.”