By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Heartbroken was the word to describe the feeling of Tipton-Rosemark Academy players, coaches and faithful leaving the TRA Gymnasium Feb. 11 after the opening round Division II-A West Regional game.
Trailing 41-40 with 11 seconds remaining to the Northpoint Christian School Trojans, TRA Rebels Head Coach Jason Morgan called a timeout to set up a final offensive play. Knowing that the Trojans would surround stud post player Matt “Moose” Moody, Morgan wanted to get the ball into the hands of another senior Connor Alexander.
The point guard was able to get the ball near the top of the arch. A Trojan defender stepped out on Alexander and there appeared to be contact, but no whistle. Alexander bumped off his path was forced to pass the ball. And the last-second desperation shot was off the mark.
Northpoint advanced to the next round with a 41-40 victory. The special season for the Rebels was over.
Earning a No. 3 seed and winning 9 games in a row, TRA lived up to the expectations of Morgan. In the preseason the veteran coach said his seniors would win close games, push the younger players to a higher level and make some noise in the league.
The 2013-14 Rebels did all those things and more. Led by seniors Moody, Alexander, Blain Curtis, Zach Dickson, Austin Chambers and Nick Biggs, TRA had leadership on the court, on the bench, in practice and on the bus.
Along with emerging talent like Johnie Sanfartello, Houston Hall, Conner Sanders, Nathan Whitley and Logan Stewart the Rebels were putting together a season for the ages. This special season came to an early end courtesy of Northpoint and its big man Terrence Green.
Green scored 6 points in the first quarter to help the Trojans take a 13-4 lead. The Rebel clawed back feeding their big man in the post. Moody faced triple-team defense all night.
Despite a Trojan on his back and on each arm, once the Moose got the ball he was elevating toward the rim using his strong upperbody to create enough room to caress the ball off the glass.
Moody scored 6 points in the second quarter to make the tally 17-11 in favor of Northpoint. Then Stewart, who had a big night offensively, banked in a three-pointer to make the score 17-14. The Trojans were ahead 19-14 at the break.
Stewart was just warming up. The junior forward was left open as the Trojans focused on covering Moody. Stewart was free behind the arch and he made Northpoint pay with the triples.
Stewart’s second three-pointer gave TRA its first lead at 25-24. Green regained the advantage for Northpoint with a pair of foul shots.
Chambers snatched the lead back for the Rebels with a play he has made his entire career. Known as a hustle and effort player on defense, Chambers stepped into a passing lane and got a steal. He headed to the other end of the court for layup to make the score 27-26.
Northpoint closed out the third quarter on a 8-0 run to lead 34-27 heading into the fourth. TRA opened the final period outscoring the Trojans 11-2 to regain the advantage. Moody, who finished with 18 points, used his power for a bucket and drew a foul. His free throw made the score 36-35 in favor of Northpoint.
Moments later Alexander tied the game at 36-36 with his first of two free throws. Missing the second attempt, Alexander’s foul shot fell into the hands of Moody. The put-back basket gave TRA a 38-36 lead.
The Trojans quickly took back the lead when Tim Durham nailed a trey with 45.4 seconds remaining. The Rebels had an answer with Alexander hitting a jumper to make the score 40-39.
But Green had one more shot in him. Finishing with a game-high 22 points, Green made a layup that would prove to be the game-winner.
That shot also ended the careers of six great Rebel players. The Class of 2014 is special for many reasons. You could create a starting lineup with that group alone. But the unselfishness of those guys allowed younger guys to shine and play key roles in the success of the program.
They were there to encourage the classes who graduated before them and teach by example of what it means to be a Rebel Basketball player. All six gave strong leadership from Moody scoring 1,000 points in his career to Alexander using natural abilities to make those better around him.
Dickson did the little things on both ends of the court. The quiet man Curtis was energy all 32 minutes. And Chambers showed his teammates no matter if you’re battling illness or had a long day, keep your teammates’ spirit up.
The player who encompassed all those leadership qualities was Biggs. He missed action on the court in final prep season because of a torn ACL.
But Biggs was there for his team in all other ways from pre-game shoot around to giving out water on the bench. When he was on the floor, he was an athletic scorer and could guard the other team’s best perimeter player. He shared that knowledge with young Johnie Basketball and Whitley. Biggs used his energy to motivate his teammates all season. And he kept their spirits up when they needed it the most.
I’m sure all the Rebels had to lean on each other in that locker room moments after the Northpoint game. A special season did end too soon, but remember 2013-14 Rebels, this was a special season.