JACKSON CENTER — Efficient offense and stifling man-to-man defense has helped Jackson Center dominate early in the season. Fort Loramie discovered how tough the Tigers’ combination is during a Shelby County Athletic League game on Tuesday.
Jackson Center stayed undefeated and in first place in the SCAL by running away in the fourth quarter to beat the Redskins 55-34 in front of a nearly sold-out gym. It was the Tigers’ first home game since Nov. 29 and their last until an SCAL game against Botkins on Dec. 27.
Five players combined to hit seven 3-pointers for Jackson Center (5-0, 3-0) while junior forward Aidan Reichert dominated in the post and finished with a game-high 20 points. In addition, the team hit 12-of-13 free-throw attempts, with all 12 of their made shots coming in the fourth quarter.
Reichert and the Tigers’ defense also dominated in the post and prevented Fort Loramie from finding many inside shots. The Redskins, which have been reliant on 3-pointers so far this season, hit six 3-pointers but made just seven shots from two-point range.
Tough defense has been the norm at Jackson Center in coach Scott Elchert’s 21 years at the helm of the program. The squad has been stifling this season and allowed an average of 32.6 points per game.
Indian Lake, which is averaging 59 points per game, is the only team that’s scored more than 40 against the Tigers this year. Jackson Center won a matchup with the Lakers 54-48 on Saturday.
“We’re a pretty balanced team, and like the last several years, we’re trying to start everything we do at the defensive end of the floor,” Elchert said. “I feel like we are getting better as a defensive team, and we’re starting to gel a little more offensively.
“… Being 5-0 is nice, but we’ve got 17 games left, and it’s nothing we’re going to stick a feather in our cap for. We just know we need to be better the next time we take the floor.”
The Redskins (3-1, 2-1) stayed close for most of the first half and pulled within 34-27 at the end of the third quarter after a heave by Nolan Berning from near the scorer’s table at half court went in the net.
Jackson Center prevented that shot from sparking any sort of run. Reichert scored the first basket of the fourth after taking an inbounds pass and laying it off the glass with 7:19 left, and he followed with another basket in the post about 30 seconds later.
“He’s an essential part of where we start things offensively, but the good thing for us is he’s got good shooters around him,” Elchert said of Reichert. “When (opponents) do double down on him, he’s been doing a good job of trying to find open guys. We can have multiple guys on the floor that are capable of knocking down those open looks.”
Nick Brandewie, who led Fort Loramie with 11 points, made a 3 to cut the gap to 38-31 with 5:52 left. Jackson Center junior guard Trevor Sosby, who finished with 13 points, made a shot from just inside the arc with 5:03 left to boost the lead to nine points.
Reichert made a pair of free throws with 4:39 left to push the lead to 42-31. Fort Loramie kept fouling for the next couple of minutes, and Jackson Center kept hitting free throws to pull away.
The Tigers scored the first six points of the game but Fort Loramie scored the next seven and trailed 9-7 heading in the second. Clay Akers hit a pair of 3s in the first two minutes of the second, then Reichert hit one with 5:46 left to increase the lead to 18-11.
“They just put a run on us there, and we didn’t respond,” Fort Loramie coach Corey Britton said. “Credit to Jackson. They had some kids step up and make shots. I thought the biggest run of the game was when they scored on three straight possessions there (early) in the second quarter.”
It was the first loss of the season for the Redskins, which finished 19-8 last year and won a district title for the third consecutive year.
The squad is made of mostly new players, with Brandewie being the lone returning starter. Five other letterwinners, most of which played sparingly off the bench last year, are also back.
Britton said the biggest area of focus right now is developing the squad’s inside game. All of the team’s post players are inexperienced.
“We’re four games in, and there’s no excuses from us,” Britton said. “… I like where we’re at. We’ve got some things to clean up, but I think the score got a little out of hand tonight. We’ll keep grinding and we’ll keep getting better.”
The Tigers finished second in the SCAL last season after finishing fourth the previous two years. They’re looking for another high finish this year and are aiming for their first league title since 2013.
Anna, which won the title last year and has three returning starters and several other returnees, will likely be the Tigers’ biggest challenger. The Rockets will open their season on Saturday and will travel to Jackson Center on Dec. 27 for the first of two league meetings.
“That game was supposed to be Friday but because of their football success, that game got moved,” Elchert said. “So now we don’t play until next Friday (against Botkins). …That’s a bit of a layoff, and we’ll have to keep working hard in practice.
“… From an offensive standpoint, at times we get away from what we’re trying to do. We run a secondary break that gets us into what we want to do offensively, and we completely abandoned that for a stretch in the second half. One of the things we definitely have to get better at is eliminating major offensive lulls and avoid putting so much pressure on our defense to get stops.”
Fort Loramie has a busy weekend ahead. The squad will travel to St. Henry on Friday and then will play Berlin Hiland in a tournament at the College of Wooster on Saturday.