For the Loogootee Lions, what happens outside often starts inside.
And vice versa.
Facing a South Knox defense geared to stop center Conner Wittmer, the top-ranked Lions looked to the perimeter to break open a tight game in the second half and claim a 41-31 Blue Chip Conference win over the Spartans Tuesday.
With Wittmer held to just three points in a first half which saw Loogootee (7-0, 4-0 Blue Chip) holding a 15-14 lead at the break, the Lions used Wittmer to feed their outside threats in the third quarter. And the strategy worked to Loogootee¹s advantage as the Lions moved out to a 30-22 lead heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Matt Mathies was the main beneficiary as he scored eight of his team high 15 points in the third quarter. Mathies started a 7-0 Lion run to begin the second half with a two and a trey sandwiched around a bucket by Cam Wagler, who scored eight points.
Mathies' backcourt running mate, Colin Nelson, added a 3-pointer during the stanza for Loogootee, and the period ended with Mathies dialing long distance again for the Lions with two seconds on the clock.
For Loogootee coach Mike Wagoner, the key in the second half was getting the ball inside to allow Wittmer to exhibit his passing skills and get the Lion offense untracked.
"I thought the second half we came out and took control," said Wagoner.
"They (South Knox) had a good game plan, a box and one on Conner, but we started doing some things with Conner in the second half. We got him open and he found the open man, and you saw what kind of passer he is." Wittmer did notch seven points in the fourth quarter to reach double digits for the game with 10 points.
Nelson finished with six points, while Will Nonte rounded out the scoring for Loogootee with a pair of free throws.
After shooting just 5-15 from the floor in the first half, the Lions were 9-14, including 3-4 from the behind the arc in the second half, and the final 10-point margin would likely have been higher had the Lions not shot an uncharacteristic 9-19 from the charity stripe.
Mathies counted a trio of 3-pointers among his 15 points, 10 of which came after halftime.
³Matt¹s a great shooter. You get him open, get him set off a screen, nine times out of 10 he¹s going to hit it," said Wagoner.
South Knox (0-5, 0-2) was led by 12 points from Isiah Stafford, followed by seven from Cameron Engstrom and four from Nick Burke. First-year Spartan coach Mark Rohrer, a former standout guard for Barr-Reeve, felt his team stayed right with the defending champs in all areas but the shooting department, where South Knox hit just 11-34 (32 percent) from the field.
"This is no disrespect to Loogootee, they're a great, great basketball team, and there's a reason why they're ranked No. 1, but from top to bottom I thought we were better in a lot of places," said Rohrer. "But we just couldn¹t make a basket again." Loogootee won the junior varsity game, 37-34.
LOOGOOTEE 8 7 15 11 - 41
SOUTH KNOX 7 7 8 9 - 31
Loogootee (41) - Mathies 5 2-2 15, Nelson 2 1-2 6, Wittmer 3 4-7 10, Wagler
4 0-6 8, Nonte 0 2-2 2. Totals: 14 9-19 41.
South Knox (31) - Stafford, 4 4-5 12, Sievers 1 0-0 3, Engstrom 3 0-2 7, Scott 0 2-2 2, Elkins 1 1-1 3, Burke 2 0-0 4. Totals 11 7-10 31.
3-point goals: L; Mathies 3, Nelson. SK; Sievers , Engstrom.