BOUNCE: Blackhawk Christian got the tests that they needed in the Hall of Fame Classic

Back-to-back challenging games will teach them much more than blowouts the Braves have been getting

Blackhawk Christian’s Jake Boyer goes up with a shot against Shenandoah during December 30’s Hall of Fame Classic title game at New Castle High School. (Photo by Leverage Photography)

When looking back at Wednesday’s Hall of Fame Classic, Blackhawk Christian should realize that they really couldn’t ask for a better experience. The annual event at New Castle High School pitted four the top teams in Class 2A and Class 1A against each other and the Braves came out on top in the end with another holiday time tournament title.

But more importantly – for the greater good – Blackhawk Christian was pushed. The challenges of back to back overtime games on Wednesday is something that will make the Braves so much better if they hope to win a Class 2A state title this coming spring. Even after two close games in the Hall of Fame Classic, the Braves are still winning by over 30 points per game and have two games scoring in the nineties, with a game of a school record 118 points too. And those games have demonstrated how dominant that Blackhawk Christian can be, especially in Northeast Indiana.

But coach Marc Davidson and his squad have goals that are bigger than our area. They needed to get pushed, blocked and tested. If they hadn’t been before March, they probably wouldn’t be the best team heading into the critical parts of the state tournament.

Blackhawk Christian is so much better off for having to scrape by against Barr-Reeve and Shenandoah.

The early session win over Barr-Reeve was an eye opener. The Vikings have become a rival of sorts for Blackhawk Christian over the past few years, but the Braves are now 4-0 in the series since 2017 so it has become a one sided one. Here is the reality: the game against Barr-Reeve may not have meant anything more than a game and portal to the championship for Blackhawk Christian. But to Barr-Reeve, it meant everything. They were tired of playing little brother to Blackhawk and they played like they had the biggest chip in the world on their shoulder. Powerful teams playing the Braves like that, throwing everything they have at them, is something that the state tournament will see. Blackhawk Christian has laid their foundation as being one of the best teams in the state annually and a win over them is a big deal for anyone.

Barr-Reeve helped themselves by shooting the lights out and Blackhawk Christian didn’t come out as energized. They often didn’t close out hard enough on Viking shooters and to lead to a 14 three-pointer day for Class 1A’s top ranked team. Blackhawk had to work out of that, despite controlling most of the game, fix their errors and and outscore Barr-Reeve 12-3 in overtime.

Something the announcers of Wednesday’s championship game said stood out to me. At first, I was even a little put off by them saying that the Braves were not a deep team. Clearly they have a solid core, but I always look at them as having some solid depth. Wednesday laid the foundation for that observance though: how deep can they be against upper echelon teams outside of the Northeast Indiana bubble?

Blackhawk Christian’s Caleb Furst shoots over Barr-Reeve’s Curt Hopf during December 30’s Hall of Fame Classic at New Castle High School. (Photo by Leverage Photography)

Depth comes in two parts. Sure, its about how far down your bench you can go, but it also is about depth from your front five or six. In the title game opposite Shenandoah, Caleb Furst was held to just two first half points and spent some quality minutes of the second quarter on the bench. That could be massively troublesome if the Braves didn’t have depth up front. But Marcus Davidson’s quick eight points and a nine point first half from Zane Burke kept the Braves at the forefront of the fight with Class 2A’s fifth ranked Raiders. In fact, when Furst scored his first points in the game six and a half minutes in, all five Braves starters were on the board.

Not enough can be said about how important that Jake Boyer was on Wednesday. While Furst secured the tournament’s MVP award at night’s end, I defy anyone who saw the games to see anyone other than Boyer as the Braves’ most valuable piece on the day. Through most of this season, Boyer has affirmed the trust that Marc Davidson has put in him. Wednesday, he ignited so many opportunities for the Braves. In the game against Barr-Reeve, he finished with 15 points (on 5-6 shooting) and six rebounds. His back to the basket, jump hook finishes stopped the Blackhawk Christian wheels from spinning almost any time they were in jeopardy. He was 4-of-7 for 10 points and eight rebounds in the title game. There were just three minutes all day that were played without Boyer on the court because he’s become so valuable in this lineup.

Gage Sefton increases the depth of this team as he too has certainly earned the trust of this squad. The sophomore played 24 minutes in the final game after his 11 minutes of perfect shooting and quality defense in the first game.

Securing big runs and answering opponent runs is something the Braves haven’t had to learn much about this far in the season. They were given a lesson Wednesday, especially in the title game when they twice gave up 11 point leads. Blackhawk Christian lead Shenandoah 11-0 at the start of the game and then took an 11 point lead again, 51-40, with 5:19 left in the fourth quarter. Even through the coldest of spells, the Braves were forced to answer back. As close as Shenandoah kept it, obviously pushing the game to overtime, Blackhawk never actually trailed after taking a 35-34 lead with 3:53 left in the third quarter. When Davidson and Burke slowed in the second half, Furst woke up and finished the final with 20 points and 17 rebounds despite scoring just two in the first half.

Blackhawk really could have sank after Shenandoah stormed back at the end of regulation. Kaden McCollough scored the final six points of the fourth and sank a three pointer to tie the game with 16.8 seconds left after Burke had missed a free throw that could have iced it for the Braves. You have to feel low in that moment, a big lead taken away and overtime forced. Instead, Blackhawk Christian showed how mentally tough they can be. That, again, was as impressive as anything else they did on Wednesday.

In the extra frame, they again flexed their depth on a series that may have been the most critical for Blackhawk Christian. With 2:55 to play, Blackhawk struck first in overtime, going up 59-56 on a Davidson three. No ordinary offensive set, Davidson hit his three after two straight Braves misses, both rebounded strongly by Boyer, who gave them those critical extra looks. With the lead in hand, Sefton scored a stop in the post on the other end. That Braves takeaway affirmed control and Shenandoah didn’t score for the first 3:13 of overtime.

As Blackhawk took home the 66-59 win to become the Hall of Fame Classic champions, they outscored their opponents 22-6 in overtime sessions. The pair of games may not have been the prettiest for the Braves, but in the end they stepped up and powered through. That is a big lesson to learn and should be something Blackhawk Christian hangs their hats on to end 2020 as much as the trophy they earned at New Castle.

The 2020 Hall of Fame Classic champions, the Blackhawk Christian Braves. (Photo by Leverage Photography)

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