By GREG MENGELT
Following last Saturday’s Silver Creek Holiday Tournament championship game — won by Providence 38-36 over Clarksville — both the Pioneers and rival Generals feel like they came out of the game with a little momentum.
Class 2A No. 4 Providence got the tournament title and left with an 8-0 record. But sixth-ranked Clarksville outscored the Pioneers over the final three quarters and nearly pulled off a come-from-behind win.
Clarksville’s Austin Johnson’s potential game-winning 3-pointer went in and out last Saturday, setting up what should be another thrilling meeting between the Class 2A powers in the Clarksville city championship tonight.
“It’s two good teams two miles away from each other,” Clarksville coach Jason Connell said. “We know each other very well. It was such a great ballgame [on Saturday]. We both have a little momentum going in. It should be a great game again.”
“They know they can beat us, and I’m sure they’re very angry they didn’t beat us because they had a chance to beat us,” Providence coach Lou Lefevre said. “In that regard, the intangibles go toward them. We didn’t show in the [holiday tournament win] that we were the better team. It was two even basketball teams, and at the end of the game, we had one more basket than they did. I think they’re probably very angry they didn’t pull out the game and they’re coming back to get this one.
“When two teams are pretty even, it probably favors the team that didn’t win the first one in the next one. Our job is to try to beat a team that’s at least as good as you and be able to go out the second time and outscore them, and that’s what our job is.”
Clarksville came into the season the higher ranked of the two teams. After a 5-0 start, the Generals have dropped two of their last three.
The loss to Providence hurt twice as much. It kept Clarksville from the tournament title and, of course, it came against a Providence program to which the Generals hate losing to more than any other.
“It gives us a little more motivation,” Clarksville senior Aidan McEwen said. “Clarksville-Providence is a big game every year, but this gives us a little more motivation to get redemption.”
“I definitely feel like since we beat them in the holiday tournament, they’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder,” Providence senior Dalton Duley said of Clarksville. “I think it will be just as close as it was last game. Both teams are so competitive with each other, it should be an all-around good game.”
History says Clarksville could avenge the tournament loss tonight. Just since Lefevre took over at Providence in 2004-05, twice the Pioneers have beaten Clarksville in the holiday tournament only to lose to the Generals in the city championship.
In 2005-06, Providence beat Clarksville by 17 points in the opening round of the tournament and the Generals got revenge in the regular season, 52-47. The next year, the Pioneers beat their rivals 50-30 to claim the tourney title, but Clarksville won at Providence in a 34-33, five-overtime thriller a week later.
“We’ve gone from winning the Christmas tournament to losing the next game, and that’s no fun,” Lefevre said. “The fun of winning the Christmas tournament goes away quickly when they come back and knock you off the next week. The problem is with these games is every time you win, it makes it more difficult to win the next time. If we were to win again, it would give them a huge advantage in the sectional. I’ve been coaching long enough to know that beating a good team multiple times in a season almost never happens.”
In last Saturday’s win, Providence jumped out to a 17-8 lead after scoring the first six points of the second quarter. The Generals know they’ll have to avoid another slow start to give Providence its first loss tonight.
“The first two, three possessions, we just weren’t doing what we need to do,” Connell said. “We have to stick with what we do. It’s been a great week of practice, so maybe we’ll be more focused and better prepared this time.”
“We have to come out fast,” McEwen said. “In the [last] Providence game, we came out sluggish.”
Another factor in the Pioneers’ win was their dominance on the backboards. Providence out-rebounded Clarksville 24-19 and scored several of its points on offensive putbacks.
“We gave up way too many offensive rebounds,” Connell said. “That’s something we stressed going into [last Saturday’s] game.”
“They’re overall a lot bigger than us,” McEwen said. “We feel like we have to get rebounds, and if we do that, we have a pretty good shot.”
In the holiday tournament, Providence was able to keep the score low. Having held their opponents to a state-best 33.1 points per game, that would appear to be the Pioneers’ preference.
McEwen said a key to tonight’s game will be to get more points in transition.
“We definitely want to make it an up-tempo game,” he said. “We have a team of athletes and we like to get up the floor. It’s a contrast in styles. We’d like the game in the 50’s or 60’s rather than the high 30’s.”
If Clarksville wants to run, Providence will be happy to do so, Lefevre said.
“I know that everyone thinks that’s what I want and that’s our style,” he said. “I don’t have any one style. I want our team to look for transition baskets and get as good a shot as they can. What happens is very few teams pressure us and we don’t press, so it always ends up a half-court game. In a half-court game, the scores are always going to be low.
“I think people get a mistaken impression. There are some teams that pressure us and we win 70-65 sometimes. I don’t have any desire for a certain tempo. If [Clarksville] wants to play fast, then we have to beat them playing fast. If they want to play slow like they did last time, then we’ll have to beat them that way.”
After the first meeting, neither coach had trouble complimenting his opponent.
“They do a really good job of doing a lot of different things,” Connell said of the Pioneers. “They’re so fundamental. They don’t do anything spectacular. They don’t try to do things they can’t do. If you’re going to beat them, you have to beat them at their game.”
“They have a team of star players,” Lefevre said of the Generals. “They can run and jump and shoot and they’re smart. They can do so many things. They always have multiple players on the court who can score. Everything is difficult in preparing for them. You have to stop a multitude of things. I think when they play us, they have to worry about stopping us, too. I guess that’s what we’re both considered good teams.”
Both head coaches admitted that playing twice in six days isn’t the best situation. Connell would like to see a chance in the schedule beginning next season.
“I don’t like this scenario,” Connell admitted. “Five days after playing them having to play them again. I’m going to try to get the game moved. I think it will be good for everybody. It’s tough to deal with. You have to deal with it. But as a coach, it’s not a lot of fun.”
“You can’t ever get the schedule perfect,” Lefevre said. “You have to just go out and play.”
The Generals’ 6-2 start isn’t exactly what they had in mind for a team that entered the season ranked in the top-five. However, Connell said he likes the way things are progressing for his squad.
“Six and two, I’m not upset with that,” Connell said. “I’m happy with where we are. To have a chance to win the holiday tournament at the buzzer, you can’t ask for much more. We knew this year, the wins and losses may not be where they were at last year with a more difficult schedule. But at the end of the year, it will help us for tournament time. I think we’re more of a basketball team this year. I like how this team plays.”
Tonight’s showdown could be the second of three meetings between the Generals and Pioneers. While the sectional would clearly be the biggest of the three meetings, both teams know that tonight’s city championship is huge for both sides, as well.
“It’s a really big game for us,” McEwen said. “It will be the biggest game we played this year. It’s a good game for momentum for the rest of the year. If we’re able to pull this one out, it should give us a lot of momentum for the conference schedule.”
“It’s a big game for everybody,” Duley said. “It will be a big win if we can pull it off. I feel like Clarksville’s going to be wanting this win and we have to match their intensity. If we do that, we should come out on top.”