RENSSELAER — Rensselaer Central senior Tristen Wuethrich waited until the game’s final seconds to put his imprint on the Bombers’ game with West Lafayette Friday night.
His teammates are overjoyed that he did.
Trailing by as much as six points with under two minutes remaining, the Bombers scored nine straight points — including four by Wuethrich is the final 28 seconds — to snag a 46-43 victory against the Red Devils.
West Lafayette held a 43-36 lead with 1:20 left when junior Kadyn Rowland knocked down a pair of free throws to pull the Bombers within four points.
Senior Colby Chapman, who kept the Bombers close when his teammates struggled, then hit an off-balanced 3-point shot with 51 seconds showing to pull RCHS even closer at 43-42.
After Westside turned the ball over, the Bombers had a chance to take the lead, but a missed shot inside the free throw line gave the ball back to the Red Devils, who called a timeout to set up an inbounds play.
However, the play never materialized after Chapman tipped away a pass into Wuethrich’s path and the senior guard crashed to the rim for a layup with 28 seconds left to give the Bombers their first lead since the first half.
Chapman told Wuethrich to be ready in case he got his hands on the pass, which came near half court.
“I’ve been doing that all year long,” he said. “I told him, ‘You get in there because I’m going to tip it,’ and that’s exactly what happened. He got it and hit the layup.”
Wuethrich said he is aware of Chapman’s ability to get his fingertips on inbounds passes.
“We only had five fouls, so we had a foul to give,” he said. “We had to go after the ball, but we had to get in the bonus since we were down one at that point. But we came out saying we need to go for the steal.”
Putting pressure on the player out of bounds was key to the play.
“We have gotten to the point where we don’t allow people to throw it inbounds easy and that’s exactly the reason why,” Bombers coach Chad Pulver said. “Most times, teams don’t practice throwing it in, they practice to put plays in around getting it in. We tried to take that away. In this case, Colby is quick and long and he was able to get a tip on that ball and Tristen read it perfectly and grabbed it.”
After getting the steal and tossing the ball up on the rim, Wuethrich’s shot took its sweet time rolling around before dropping through.
“The ball just hung,” Wuethrich said. “I was already three steps down the floor and I turned and looked and it was still spinning around then dropped in.”
Chapman said of the shot: “I didn’t know if it was going in or not. I was standing under the rim when it fell. It was a big basket.”
The Red Devils had a chance to take the lead, but an errant pass forced them to foul Rowland, who missed both ends of his foul shots with 16.7 seconds left.
But a West Lafayette player kicked the ball out of bounds during a scramble for a rebound of Rowland’s second miss. The Red Devils fouled Wuethrich with 13.9 seconds left and the veteran hit both ends for a 46-43 edge.
Wuethrich said hitting clutch free throws late reminded him of last year’s sectional when he knocked down a pair to secure the Bombers’ 2A sectional championship victory over Lewis Cass.
“We call him ‘Ice T’ for a reason,” Pulver said.
Westside set up one last play to force a tie, but Rensselaer’s half court pressure pushed the Red Devils along the perimeter. Benny Speaker’s forced up a desperation 3 try after the buzzer sounded and the Bombers’ bench stormed the court to celebrate with their teammates.
Chapman had his prints all over RCHS’s victory, scoring a game-high 24 points. He was bumped and knocked off his feet as he attacked the rim, hitting 11 of 13 free throws.
When he wasn’t driving into the lane, he was knocking down 3-point shots, going 3 of 6 on the night.
“They kept fouling, so I’m going to see what I can do,” Chapman said. “We were already in the bonus. They already had seven fouls, so let’s see if I can draw one, and I think I got fouled three, four times in a row.”
The 6-foot-3 senior added 10 rebounds and two assists.
“Colby did a great job of just trying to find space,” Pulver said. “He knew they were coming at him, trying to face-guard him and trying to bang him around. I think they believe Colby’s soft. Colby is not soft. On top of that, he’s a competitor, so he knew when he had an angle on a guy and they kept fouling, he took the foul. He did a nice job of putting us in position to make some noise late.”
Wuethrich finished with 13 points after a slow start. He added nine rebounds and three assists.
Speaker was the lone double-digit scorer for the Red Devils, finishing with 16 points on 6 of 17 shooting. He was 1 of 6 from 3-point range and the team was 4 of 25 from deep in the loss.
“Westside loves their threes,” Wuethrich said. “They were shooting a lot of threes tonight. Our main goal was to contest the threes, box out. The first half, we struggled rebounding a little bit, but I think we really got after them in the second half.”
Senior Divine Adeyanju pulled down 15 rebounds and added six points. Jack Montes had eight points and eight boards.
Both teams struggled on the offensive side of the floor. West Lafayette knocked down just 15 of 58 shots for 25.9% and the Bombers were 12 of 49 for 24.5%.
RCHS hit 18 free throws to nine for the Red Devils.
“We had controlled much of the game,” Pulver said. “We had control of the pace. We had gotten things that we needed. We had a lead. Then we literally couldn’t put the ball in the hole. Then they got a few threes. And we knew they were going to hit some of them. They live and die by the 3-pointer and they hit a few and that certainly put a lot more pressure on us.”
The win avenged a 63-60 loss on Dec. 3 to the Red Devils at the IU Health Hoops Classic. RCHS has now beaten West Lafayette two years in a row in games with conference ramifications.
The Bombers are 8-4 overall and 2-1 in league play with a Feb. 9 date at home against Benton Central remaining. RCHS is the only team standing in the way of the Bison’s quest for an outright Hoosier Conference title.
West Lafayette, which has lost three in a row, owns a 5-7 mark, including 0-2 in the HC.
“We knew coming into this we could have a little bit of redemption after losing to them in the tournament,” Pulver said. “This is a conference foe and now we’re 2-1 in the conference. This is a team that traditionally has beaten us. I don’t think we’re high on their priority list to worry about. So those are important to us. Now in conference we’ve beaten them two years in a row. That means something to us.”
It was a strong start to the game for the Bombers, who led 8-2 in the first four minutes of the opening quarter. But they managed to hit just 3 of 14 shots in the period while clinging to an 8-4 lead.
They were just 3 of 13 in the second quarter, but Westside managed to hit just 4 of 15 shots to trail 19-17 at halftime. Chapman scored 13 of his team’s 19 points.
A 9-2 run to open the second half put the Red Devils in position to gain control of the game. They led 26-21 after a pair of baskets by Montes, a Speaker three-point play and a jumper by Michael Lynch.
Westside held a six-point lead throughout most of the second half before clutch shots by Chapman and Wuethrich brought life back into the team and Bomber Squad fans.