High School basketball: Senior averaging triple-double for unbeaten, third-ranked Tippecanoe

TIPP CITY – Until he saw the boys basketball job opening, which he later accepted, Adam Toohey admits he’d never heard of Tippecanoe High School. He did a double take when visiting the school for the first time and walking into Pat Wampler Gymnasium.

“I took this job before I ever saw the gym. … I was like, this is our gym? Are you kidding me?’” Toohey said.

These days triple takes are the rave in Tipp. Senior Ben Knostman, one of four seniors leading the way for the red-hot Red Devils, has seven triple-doubles (points-rebounds-assists) through 16 games. Knostman averages 15.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 10.0 rebounds for the Red Devils (17-0 overall and Miami Valley League).

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On Jan. 29, Tipp beat Sidney 67-53 to earn its first overall league title since 2010. The Red Devils did win the MVL’s Miami Division last season, but Sidney claimed both the Valley Division and overall title.

Tipp is also ranked No. 3 in the Division II state poll behind No. 1 Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and No. 2 Lima Shawnee.

Not bad for a group of four seniors who struggled through a 7-16 season, dropping seven of their final nine games, as sophomores.

“We didn’t have these goals, for sure,” Knostman said. “Coming back (from our sophomore year) we never expected this. It’s cool. We knew we had the ability, we just never expected it to be this good.

“We move the ball amazingly. Everybody scores. Everybody plays defense. Everybody does everything. It’s not just one person. We all play together.”

Senior Zach Frederick leads Tipp with 15.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 32 three-pointers. Senior Nick Robbins adds a little bit of everything (5.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists) and along with Knostman is one of the best at making plays happen. Senior Gabe Dean is strong off the bench (4.3 points, 2.1 rebounds).

“Off the court, I think he’s a glue for our team’s personality,” Frederick said of Robbins. “He’s not only a glue player on the court but I think off the court he’s really good at brining everybody together and staying positive.”

“I think (Dean is) probably the most improved player on our team,” Knostman said. “He’s the best dunker, but we haven’t seen it yet. He’s turned into a really solid player all the way around.”

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Juniors Cole Coppock (11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds) and Gavin Garlitz (10.0 points, 29 three-pointers) take pressure off the seniors. Junior Griffin Caldwell (5.7 points) and sophomore Stanley Clyne (4.6 points) add depth off the bench.

Robbins said the senior class started their high school careers with about eight classmates playing basketball. Dean, Frederick, Knostman and Robbins remain. They hope to stick together a little while longer. Three regular season games remain before the start of the D-II sectional tournament. Tipp’s last district title came in 2007.

Tipp’s girls, led by first-year coach Christina Pentaudi, are 18-0 and also won the MVL championship. Tipp’s girls are ranked No. 6 in the D-II state poll. In a typical season both teams would be cheering each other on from the student section. But this isn’t one of those seasons with the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think our bench has done a good job trying to bring energy,” Frederick said of getting up for games in a quiet gym. “Your teammates are pretty much the only people in the gym besides your parents. I think the bench has done a great job bringing us energy on the court.”

That togetherness the Red Devils share has helped both teams. The four seniors on the boys’ team are close, as are the girls’ teams five seniors – Katie Hemmelgarn, Ashleigh Mader, Corinn Siefring, Kenna Smith and Rachel Wildermuth – who are best friends.

“Sometimes you get a year where everybody here wants to be here and wants to play,” said Toohey, adding his players have accepted and exceled at their roles. “A lot of people say what’s the secret? They’re just good people. They’re raised by good families. Character counts.”

The counting continues for Knostman’s triple-doubles, too. He also has 12 double-doubles, and just missed a quadruple-double with 23 points, 14 rebounds, 14 assists and eight blocks against Piqua on Jan. 15. Knostman had five double-doubles and two triple-doubles in 20 games last season.

“His trouble doubles are nuts,” Toohey said. “But to us we’ve seen this every open gym and in practice. I think people get caught up with it. We tease him about it. After practice we’ll start to clean up and he’ll take one or two more shots. We’ll tell him, ‘Oh, you get one MVL player of the year award (and you’re too good to help).’”

That tongue-in-cheek teasing is all in good fun, of course.

But the numbers the Red Devils are putting up has made them the talk of the town. And one that Toohey is glad he found.

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