When a young team begins to spread its wings and fly, truly remarkable achievements can come about as a result.
With just one victory in its back pocket all season, the Notre Dame Titans’ boys basketball program has taken its fair share of defeats. But after falling to Symmes Valley by a scant 59-55 margin and then falling to a much-improved Western squad — which has completely exceeded expectations — by a 70-68 count in overtime in back-to-back games — it was clear that Notre Dame was making vast strides.
However, nothing could’ve prepared anybody for the performance that was to happen next.
Behind five three-pointers from Jackson Clark en route to a team-high 19 points, 17 points from Ben Mader — including the game-winning free throw with a second to play — and an additional 11 tallies from Tyler Speas, the Titans put themselves squarely in the “Convo”sation talk by claiming a breakthrough 55-54 victory over Ironton St. Joseph on Tuesday evening in Portsmouth.
For second-year head coach Garrick Anderson, the win, along with the close defeats that preceded Tuesday’s spectacular victory, is a sign that Notre Dame is beginning to turn the corner with its young roster — which has five freshman overall of the nine players who are on the varsity unit.
“It was a great team win against St. Joe,”Anderson said. “We’ve had a couple of heartbreakers (Western and Symmes Valley) but we did not let those losses set us back. I believe that’s a sign of our team maturing. I keep telling our kids to keep their foot on the gas pedal to keep climbing up that mountain. The kids come and work hard in practice and it has showed these last couple of games. Our coaching staff couldn’t be more proud of these kids. Just to see the emotion on the face after the buzzer sounded was amazing.”
Clark, who has rocketed up the charts in his development over the last half of the season, was as tremendous on Tuesday evening as the freshman proved to be on Saturday against Western. The 5-10 stalwart nailed five threes en route to a 19-point outing against Ironton St. Joseph after nailing a ridiculous nine treys and 34 points against the Indians to keep Notre Dame in its prior affair. His fellow freshman teammate, Miles Shipp, obtained six tallies as the pair, along with Caleb Nichols — who added a pair — collected 27 of the unit’s 55 points on Tuesday evening.
”Jackson has played well these last couple of games for us,” Anderson said. “He is the gym constantly getting better along with Miles. Those two kids love to play the game of basketball.”
Defensively, Notre Dame impressed as the Titans proved to have the winning elexor for Ironton St. Joseph due to the different matchup zones that Anderson and Co. threw at Ironton St. Joseph. Those zones slowed Joey McDavid, who only managed to score 12 points after going off for a 30-point outing against Green earlier in the season.
“It was a great team effort defensively,” Anderson said. “We gave them a couple of different zone looks that we worked on in practice and the kids bought in. Each day us coaches challenge our kids to get better defensively. One person is not going to win the game defensively; it takes a team to play defense. We told our kids to always know where (McDavid) is at all times. We executed our game plan very well.”
When the plays had to be made, the upperclassmen, however, answered the bell. When Zach Roach hit a three to tie the score with 4.4 seconds left, Mader — who finished with 17 points — proceeded to close out the game as the junior drew a foul with a second left and nailed the game-winning free throw to hold off Ironton St. Joseph after the Flyers made a late rally with the Titans up by a two-possession margin. Speas’ 11 points were also critical in the final result.
“The way Ben has been playing has been no surprise to me,” Anderson said. “He did the same thing during football and will do whatever it takes for his team to get the win. When Ben attacks the rim, he creates for others and has been sharing the basketball well when attacking. Tyler is that coach on the floor that everybody needs, he does the little things that really doesn’t get put in the box score. Speas is our only senior on the team and has taken his role seriously. He’s taken the underclassmen under his wing and has provided great leadership.”
With the victory, Notre Dame improved its overall record to 2-16 overall while dropping Ironton St. Joseph’s record to 14-5 in the process. They’ll have a chance to establish more momentum when the Titans face East on Friday evening at 6 p.m. in a highly-anticipated rivalry contest.
“Adam Bailey does a great job at getting his kids prepared,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a great battle between two rival teams. I look forward to a great basketball contest.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT