South Carroll High School boys basketball coach Doug Goff needed just five handshakes to know what type of game he could expect on Friday night.
“I don’t think anybody will ever play a South Carroll team that physical as that team there,” he said. “I mean their starting lineup, they came out and I’m like ‘Oh my goodness there’s another guy bigger coming and another guy bigger coming and another guy bigger coming and I’m like, man, and then the [Thomas] Utt kid is big, strong, and talented.”
Well, the game between Goff’s fourth-ranked Cavs and No. 3 Urbana would get much more physical than some firm grips in the introductions. If there were a stat for bodies hitting the floor in a single game, or quarter for that matter, this one would have set records. Hard fouls had parents whining for technicals, anybody setting a screen was subsequently bulldozed and, after the first quarter was out, one fan commented, “they’re letting them play. Good God.”
But South Carroll would take its licks and emerge after four rounds of the rugby-on-hardwood slugfest with a 53-42 win in Ijamsville, finishing the regular season 15-7.
“We took this game as an opportunity to play a really good team, on the road, and try to get better, try to learn what we could,” Goff said. “We could simulate today as going on the road in an environment that might be tough against a pretty good team and try to play good, try to play well, try to learn from it.”
The hostile environment was certainly there, and Urbana coach John Cooper expected as much. He predicted the final score to be somewhere around 30-28 and, while that was a bit off, this was about as pretty as one would imagine a 30-28 game would be.
“Both of us have difficulty scoring,” Cooper said. “You saw. We came out really, really ragged and weren’t as intense as they were … it was a grind, it was intense. Physical, intense, tough high school basketball game.”
The Hawks’ Utt was really the only one producing any kind of offensive output or creating any kind of rhythm to a herky-jerky game littered with turnovers, blocked shots and jump balls. The senior finished with a game-high 21 points and was responsible for more than 70 percent of Urbana’s offense in the first half.
“He’s really good, he’s really good,” Goff said. “If that kid isn’t being considered for player of the year there’s something wrong. He is just a really strong player. He can shoot, he can handle the ball, he guards your best guy, he just does everything.”
South Carroll countered Utt with its long and lanky forward, Gavin McTavish, The Gazette’s reining player of the year and the area’s third leading scorer. In a fairly loosely called game, he dealt with Brendan Wharton smothering him everywhere he went with forearms to the chest and constant bodying up to finish with 20 points on just four made field goals. The senior went 10-for-10 from the line, boosting the Cavs free throw percentage to 90 percent on the night.
“Every day we shoot free throws before practice, after practice, during practice,” said McTavish, who is still undecided as to where he’s playing at the next level. “We just keep shooting them.”
Cooper, despite the loss, was his normal, genial self afterwards, pleased with the hard-nosed defensive effort by his team and by the play of guard Riley Tyeryar, who has received an uptick in playing time and ball-handling duties.
“If you would have told me at the start of the year that we’d be 17-4, I’d say you’re crazy,” Cooper said. “We’ve had a very good year, hopefully we’ll keep it up and we’ll find out what happens.”
South Carroll 53, Urbana 42
South Carroll 13 8 9 23 — 53
Urbana 6 8 12 16 — 42
South Carroll (15-7; 9-5): Gavin McTavish 20; Tyler Alcid 11; Phil Breno 11; Jack Quinn 5; Matt Breno 2; Andrew Louder 2.
Urbana (17-4; 11-3): Thomas Utt 21; Brendan Wharton 10; Darren Ambush 4; Ian Eversull 3; Cole Burdette 2; Riley Tyeryar 2.