It is difficult for the players to understand, but Andover boys basketball coach Chad Wilmott knows his team improved on Wednesday night, as the Trojans survived 22 minutes of Valley Center’s stall tactics to win 40-23 in a Class 5A sub-state semifinal.
The players hardly broke a sweat, as Valley Center had three stretches in the first half where it held the ball for more than two minutes without attempting a shot.
It may not seem like much was accomplished, as Andover (15-6) reached what seemed like the inevitable to earn a home date on Friday against Salina Central for the chance to return to the 5A tournament in Topeka.
Wilmott knows better.
“We needed that,” Wilmott said. “We needed a little adversity like that. That’s a game we haven’t seen. Those kids grew up on their own on the floor without me having to use three or four timeouts to coach them through it.”
To Valley Center coach John Wetig, the stalling tactics were justified.
Injuries had derailed the season for the Hornets (7-15), as they were without three seniors and their two best players against Andover, a team that ended the season on a 10-game winning streak and had defeated Valley Center by a combined 40 points in two meetings.
“I feel like, as coaches, it’s our responsibilities to put our kids in the best position to win,” Wetig said. “We were obviously a little out-matched against Andover, especially with the injuries we were facing.”
After Andover missed a jumper 15 seconds into the game, Valley Center set the tone for how the first three quarters would go. The Hornets essentially ran the weave in slow motion, whittling nearly three minutes off the clock and ending in an open layup for Caleb Claussen.
If Valley Center wanted to frustrate Andover, it accomplished its goal by keeping the Trojans to 10 possessions in the first half. But such a strategy also has perils.
The Hornets lost sight of their end goal of actually winning the game, instead passing up advantageous situations to pull the ball back out and run more clock. The result was the team turning the ball over six times in 11 possessions, falling behind 13-4 at halftime.
“I have no regrets with what we did,” Wetig said. “Our kids did a great job with it. They can hold their heads high. Unfortunately, it did not work out for us. Had it worked out, it would have been the best plan in the world. The state of Kansas doesn’t have a shot clock yet, so you play within the rules.”
The stalling drew the ire of the Andover crowd, most notably a member of the student section who decided to match every Valley Center point with a push-up.
After 22 minutes of game action, he had done eight push-ups.
“It was really frustrating,” said Andover’s Austin Brown, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half. “It took us out of the game mentally for a bit, but after a few possessions we figured it out.”
Every time a Valley Center possession came up empty, the margin for error narrowed. After Andover built a 21-8 lead, Wetig was forced to open the game up.
That briefly brought the Hornets to within 21-14 behind the play of Jason Barbour (10 points), but Andover’s cushion was enough to coast through the final quarter.
And in an ironic twist, it was Andover that stalled to run the final seconds off its victory. The players could all agree, that felt good.
“It feels amazing to stop an opponent that you know is basically trying to slow the game down and not let you do what you want to do,” said Andover’s Adam DeKoning, who had a game-high 13 points. “When you can stop them from doing what they want to do, that feels great.”
Valley Center: Barbour 10, Claussen 8, Johnston 2, Wetig 2, Brown 1.
Andover: DeKoning 13, Brown 12, Klusener 5, Butler 5, Norlin 2, Renoux 2, Jobe 1.