ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — Fridays sectional semi-finals at Alexandria features the most anticipated game of the East Central Indiana boys basketball season: a rematch between undefeated Monroe Central and Wapahani.
Still, a moment in the Raiders’ 49-43 win over Frankton on Wednesday compromised the fight. sophomore star isaac andrews (23 ppg) attempted a rebound midway through the third quarter and landed on an opponent’s foot, spraining his right ankle.
Wapahani No. 7 Class 2A (19-4) held just a three-point lead, and the Eagles took an early lead with a 6-0 run during the guard’s absence. Junior Aidan Franks (19 ppg) tied the game 33-33 with a late layup, but uncertainty gripped the tense Raider crowd as the final eight minutes approached.
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Andrews had his right taped, wrapped and supported with a splint as he tested the sideline for pain. He surely would have stayed away if it was a regular season game, but Andrews, his coaches and his teammates never doubted he would be back.
“I also knew I would come back as soon as I fell. There was no way I was going to get out of this game. I was keeping the game in my hands,” Andrews said. “Basketball is my life, so this team means everything to me. It’s my family.”
Still limited, Andrews returned to his primary ball-handling duties. Franks and junior Nathan Nelson made clutch baskets throughout the final frame to hold a slim advantage until Frankton led 41-40 with three minutes remaining.
Senior Drayden Gates, who entered the playoffs with just 34 points on the year, made a pivotal layup and -1 to give Wapahani a 43-41 lead. Both teams stalled for the next two minutes until the ball was in Andrews’ hands.
He went to the line for free throws 1 and 1, having to do both to secure his team a two-possession lead and essentially freeze the game. As if unembarrassed, Andrews swept both to send Wapahani through to the semis and keep the program’s hope of three straight section titles alive.
“He’s a tough boy. He’s a winner. I’ve known him since he was probably 4 and he’s just a winner,” head coach Matt Luce said. “Nothing about Isaac surprises me. He’s cool, calm and collected.”
Andrews finished with 13 points, his third-lowest total of the season. Nelson instead led the team-wide effort, scoring 17 points and eight rebounds with essential energy and tenacity.
The 6-foot-5 center is by far Wapahani’s tallest player, despite being thin, so Nelson is often called upon to control the paint against multiple forwards. He also knows when teams are nuanced in their defense against Franks and Andrews, and has become more comfortable recognizing when it’s time to shine offensively.
“For me, the rebound isn’t really about the size. You just have to put in the effort…I see these big guys over there and I’m just like, ‘I’m going to get the rebound. …we’ve always been undersized but we’re just playing our hearts out,” Nelson said. “(It’s) so much fun. It’s like the best time of my life. Basketball season, I’m enjoying it a lot.”
The Raiders now focus on No. 1 Monroe Central, their Middle East Conference opponents who won Game 1 54-53 at home on Feb. 11. It was the Golden Bears’ toughest test of the season, and unlike Wapahani, they emerged unscathed after a 63-26 first-round win over Elwood.
The teams’ first meeting, perhaps the best game of the season so far, is still fresh in the minds of all involved. Both coaches cited the electric atmosphere in the gymnasium and the physicality of a game in which neither team led by much at any time.
Luce thinks his boys are tougher now, hardened by that loss and three narrow streak wins afterwards. Monroe Central has had an easier path since then, but head coach Justin Ullom believes his team’s half-court attack has improved with more movement, and the group’s dogged defense is only getting worse. to improve.
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Andrews’ health could be the deciding factor in the rematch. It’s encouraging that he’s battled injury, and Luce is certain his star will play on Friday, but it’s unclear how embarrassed he will be.
“(Andrews) is such a good kid and a competitor…hopefully he’s ready to go,” Ullom said. “Obviously (our players) are going to hear things. We’re just going to prepare like he’s 100 percent because he’s a great player in Indiana State. I doubt even if it’s 80-90%, we’ll notice a lot of difference.”
Although the semi-final Winchester (13-8) and Lapel (12-11) precedes the rematch, the winner of Wapahani against Monroe Central will be the favorites to lift the section trophy.
The Golden Bears, who have never won a Section 2A title, will be steady as always. The Raiders, two-time defending champions, enter the reverse on Friday with many unknowns. Franks, who had just six points in the previous encounter, will be asked to do more.
If one thing is certain, the teams are eager to give a tip.
“He’s a big rival and they’re three miles down the road and their guys know our guys,” Luce said. “They know how great the atmosphere and the game was, and they would love to be challenged again. It’s going to be a great night of high school basketball in Indiana.”