Boys basketball: CJ storms back to top Tipp, reach regional final

VANDALIA – Heads were hanging in the Chaminade Julienne locker room at halftime Thursday night, but senior Daniel Nauseef said encouraging words were being spoken. Instructions were being given.

In the other locker room, Tippecanoe was feeling good. The Red Devils led by as many as 20 in the first half and by 14 at the half in a Division II regional semifinal at Butler High School. Tipp coach Adam Toohey knew what the instructions were in the CJ locker room.

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‘We knew their only adjustment was to play harder, be more physical and take a bunch of threes and make a bunch of threes,” Toohey said. “And the issue is we didn’t stop them from doing that.”

The Eagles didn’t get it all back at once, but at the 5:05 mark they cut the Tipp lead to nine.

“Fourteen sounds a lot better than 20,” CJ coach Charlie Szabo said of Jonathan Powell’s 6-0 run in the final 23 seconds of the half. “So, 14 you can say we need to get some stops, let’s get it under 10 and it’s right there.”

The Eagles believed that theory and hung around to trail by nine going into the fourth quarter on the strength of two Luke Chandler 3-pointers and two free throws by Powell (14 points) to close the quarter.

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Then the Eagles took total control in the fourth with a 15-2 run to score a 58-55 victory and move within one step of their first trip to the state tournament since 2015. The Eagles (14-5) will play Columbus Bishop Watterson (12-15) in the regional final at 1 p.m. Saturday at Butler. Watterson survived 48-41 in double overtime against Cincinnati McNicholas.

“I was in the locker room, and I was thinking about that Notre Dame game last week where they came back from like 25,” Nauseef said. “We can do this. We have the fight in us.”

Nauseef was a big reason. He scored 11 of his 19 points in the second half, using his 6-foot-7 frame and physical style to dominate the paint. Tipp tried to double-team in the post, but it never worked quite right.

“He’s good,” Toohey said. “I told their coach how does he not kill your whole team in practice. He is an animal out there.”

Szabo’s most important halftime adjustment was to put junior Kenyon Owens on Tipp guard Ben Knostman, who dominated the first half with nine points and seven assists by getting into the paint. Owens’ job was to keep Knostman, who finished with 14 points, out of the paint and speed up the Red Devils.

“Kenyon (pronounced Keon) was our key to success,” Nauseef said. “No one could guard Ben Knostman in the first half. He came in and fired the whole team up.”

Led by Owens, the Eagles held the Red Devils to 13 second-half points.

“He’s a great football player, and he’s a role player for us,” Szabo said. “Tonight we needed him to play that role and keep that kid out of the paint. And he did a great job.”

CJ finally got the lead at 53-52 with 3:26 left when Nauseef bullied his way inside for two. The Eagles led the rest of the way.

Tipp had a chance to force overtime. They inbounded the ball to Knostman who found a way to get the ball Zach Frederick at the top the key for a contested 3-point shot. Frederick made four 3-pointers in the first half and scored 19 points, but his final shot bounced off the rim.

“I had a moment today about three o’clock where I’m like 10 seconds left, time out, what are we doing,” Toohey said. “And I’m going to Zach Frederick and saying where do you want the ball. He said somewhere on the right side. Got it. He’s our senior, a guy we trust so much. There’s no one else I want taking that shot.”

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