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Soaring to semistate

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Morristown senior guard Eli Streeval celebrates after making a play with freshman teammate Kyle Crim last weekend at Martinsville. Streeval, Crim and the Yellow Jackets are set to take on Barr-Reeve at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Seymour Semistate. New Albany and Warren Central will play afterwards.
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Morristown junior point guard Logan Laster leaps for a jump shot last weekend at the Martinsville Regional. The Yellow Jackets will battle Barr-Reeve Saturday at the Seymour Semistate.
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Morristown junior guard Logan Theobald rises for a jump shot last weekend in the team's win over Tindley.

By KRIS MILLS - kmills@shelbynews.com

MORRISTOWN -- The Purdue basketball team was in the midst of a win streak. In Morristown, the Yellow Jackets were experiencing something similar. So Scott McClelland made a phone call.

On the other end was Boilermakers starting point guard P.J. Thompson, who will lead Purdue into the NCAA Tournament Friday.

“P.J. met the team when we went over (to West Lafayette) this summer to play,” McClelland said. “As these wins are mounting up during the season -- the same thing is happening for those guys. So I ask him, ‘how are you guys handling all this?’”

Thompson, who played under McClelland at Brebeuf Jesuit from 2010-12, had an answer. But he did not deliver it in person. Understably busy, and in different locations, Thompson met with the team on a Skype video call.

“I told them just to be grounded,” Thompson said Wednesday night. “I told them just to live in the moment and to not worry about post-high school plans. Stay in the now and the rest will play out for itself.

“I told them also to play unselfishly and for each other. The more you win, the more you achieve as well."

The Purdue point guard also said “Coach Mac” has played a huge part in his development as a player and person -- just like the current players on state-ranked Morristown. 

“From taking me to some college visits to giving me advice during my college years, (Coach McClelland) has been someone I can always count on,” Thompson said. “He is a player’s coach and cares more about his players than anyone I know. From the last person on the bench to the best player, he wants the best for all.”

It is safe to say Thompson’s message resonated with the team. Morristown, after a loss to Hauser on Dec. 1, rattled off 18 straight wins during the regular season before a loss to Shelbyville on Feb. 17. During their midseason run, the Boilermakers won 19 consecutives contests.

Purdue (28-6), which received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, will meet Cal State Fullerton Friday at 12:40 p.m. in the first round. Thompson, a senior, is averaging 7.1 points, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game. 

The No. 4 Yellow Jackets also have a game to worry about this weekend. The team will meet No. 5 Barr-Reeve Saturday in the first contest of the Seymour Semistate. The following game, a matchup between undefeated Warren Central and New Albany, led by Indiana University target Romeo Langford, has turned the semistate into a circus. The Seymour gym, which seats over 8,000, is expected to be full. Tickets on Craiglist, as reported by the IndyStar, are selling for $50 -- nearly five times the face value.

McClelland is not worried about what he cannot control, though. Morristown (26-2), he said, has played in tough environments this season.

“We put the Shelbyville game at the end of the season for a reason,” McClelland said. “I think we learned a lot about ourselves during that game. We had a terrific crowd. Then the sectional and the semifinal game with Hauser that Friday night was great. Shelbyville helped us prepare for that. The sectional helped us prepare for the regional. We had a great crowd Saturday morning (in Martinsville) and an even better crowd at night.

“This Saturday, Jim Shannon (New Albany head coach) told me the place will be crazy. I told the kids that. After that, we have not talked about it. I don’t know that you can fully grasp what it will be like. I don’t want to make it a bigger deal than it is. We still have a task at hand.”

Barr Reeve, which is 24-4 this season, is led by veteran head coach Bryan Hughes, who is 477-156 at the school. Hughes is 5-0 in semistate contests and has won numerous sectional titles with the Vikings. In 2015, the team won a state title, finishing the year 27-2.

Barr-Reeve is averaging 53.2 points per game while allowing 44.2. Morristown is scoring over 70 ppg. 

WIth a low scoring average, the Vikings may not be perceived as a team that will push the ball in the open court like the Yellow Jackets. That is not true, according to McClelland. The Vikings are tournament tested, as well, and will fight to the end.

“They have come from behind a lot in the tournament,” McClelland said. “They were down 12 in the sectional championship with about 6:30 left in the game. In the regional championship, they found a way to come from behind again. You got to play 32 minutes -- or you got to play 36 minutes. They have shown, more than once, that the can come from behind. They do not get rattled and beat themselves. They are very heady and stable.

“If you look over the last 15 years, regardless of class, Barr-Reeve has been as successful as any five teams in the state. They have a great, great following.”

Similar to Hauser, Barr-Reeve centers its offense around a 6’8 forward -- sophomore Keegan O’Neill. He is averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field.

“They do not necessarily have a high scorer like a Hayden (Langkabel),” McClelland said. “In some ways, they remind you of University in terms of balance. They have some size and we have some speed.”

Junior guard Gabe Gladish is second on the team in scoring at 14.3 ppg. Junior forward Austin Ainscough, who stands 6’5, averages 8.8 ppg and 5.3 rpg, while freshman point guard Brycen Graber leads the team with 5.4 apg.

Gladish is a shooter, having made 78 threes this season at a 46-percent rate. Ainscough has made 40 threes.

Morristown and Barr-Reeve have not met in the last 30 years. Barr-Reeve defeated Bloomfield, which was defeated in the Martinsville Regional by Tindley, by seven points on Feb. 23.

Morristown, which has never played in a state championship, is the favorite by eight points, according to John Harrell’s basketball website.

“They have just been a fun group to be around,” McClelland said of his team. “I even said that before the sectional. They are great teammates for each other.”

Notes: McClelland will be an assistant coach under Beech Grove’s Matt English on the Indiana Junior All-Star team at the end of the season, which was announced Wednesday. McClelland has the most wins (26) in a single season at Morristown and is second overall in career victories with 128 behind Norm Morris (145), who coached in the 1960’s.

Kris Mills is the Sports editor of The Shelbyville News. Follow Kris on Twitter @KrisMills37.