Indians stand tall after falling short in playoffs
“Keep fighting.” That has been the mantra of the Indian River High School basketball team throughout the entire 2013-2014 season. That mantra never changed, and the team has never faltered from it — even after a 12-0 run by opponents Cape Henlopen early in the second-half in the first round of last week’s DIAA playoffs destroyed the balance of a game that, to that point, the Indians had controlled.
Though IR would never recover from the Vikings’ hot streak and would eventually go on to fall to their Henlopen North rival 72-59, they never stopped fighting.
Senior forward Jaevon “B.B.” Holland and senior forward London Tucker set the tone early on both offense and defense in front of a packed house at Cape Henlopen High School last Tuesday, Feb. 26, locking in a rhythm that the No. 14 ranked Vikings could not manage to figure out.
Up 14-10, Holland held his ground in the paint and managed a crucial block at the end of the first quarter, driving down the court and finding Tucker for the easy basket, to make it 16-10. After the “Sportscenter”-worthy play, the signature chant of Indian River’s No. 1 fan, Queen Bratton — “I like that, do it again!” — sounded out, un-matched, over Cape Henlopen bleachers that had fallen silent. The Indians had a 15-year playoff drought to make up for, and their star seniors were leading the way.
The dominance continued throughout the second half. Holland and Tucker forced turnovers and controlled the boards. Junior guard Kei Juan Major was hitting his shots. Senior point guard Brian Arthur set the tempo, and junior guard Shaquille Hall drew fouls and converted from the line. Up 30-24 headed into halftime, the smell of revenge from the 81-61 mid-season loss to the Vikings permeated the air.
But the second half brought nothing but blues for the green-and-gold. Vikings senior Toney Floyd started flying through the paint, turning the momentum and igniting the crowd. Cape’s 12-0 run to start the second half wouldn’t end until Arthur banked a shot from beyond the arch, putting the Indians within three, down 36-33 nearing the end of the third quarter.
Holland continued to rally his team, single handedly stealing an inbounds pass and drawing a foul before cashing in on the bucket to make it 41-40. After converting his foul shot, the Indians found themselves tied at 41, but another Cape hot streak, led by senior Tyreik Burton, ensured that they would trail for the rest of the game.
“We know we went in leaving some open areas on the three-point line, hoping they wouldn’t find it early and often — they didn’t,” commented a justifiably disappointed yet still genuinely proud head coach Mike Fabber after the game. “Second half, they started hitting. It kind of put us in a hole.”
“We just started [the second half] playing zone because we had them in the first half, so we just kept playing it, and they started hitting threes,” added Hall.
Despite the Vikings’ seemingly flawless shooting in the second half, the Indians continued to fight — as they have all season. Holland continued to dive for loose balls and amp up his squad, regardless of what the scoreboard said or what the Cape fans screamed.
Tucker kept fighting for possession on jump balls. Brian Arthur never stopped driving to the hoop. No player wearing green let up until the final whistle — after all, these were the guys that had made it through Fabber’s initial grueling tryouts just two years ago. He didn’t allow quitters on his team then, and as a result, he didn’t have any quitters on his team now.
“I told all of them how proud I am of them,” said Fabber of his team’s performance. “Think about it: Two years ago, I walk in to a team that just went 0-19. [Most of] these seniors were on it. Before I took the job, people told me, ‘Don’t do it. You’re going to lose your edge. No one’s going to want you after you go there.’ Two years later, we’re in the state tournament.
“I told them how proud I was and how they have brought Indian River basketball back to relevancy, and I think everybody can see that.”
Holland was one of the players whose commitment Fabber had initially questioned upon arriving at Indian River — deliberately seeking out to break him down with rigorous conditioning to see if he would quit.
Though he had proven his determination long before, his last game as an Indian left nothing to be questioned. Holland finished the night with a double-double — 20 points, 10 rebounds, five steals, two assists and a block.
Tucker notched seven boards, eight points and two blocks in his final game as an Indian, and Arthur added nine points, an assist and a block.
“[Fabber] told us told us to keep fighting,” Arthur noted. “All we can do is keep fighting.”
“We’ve been in predicaments like this, this year and last year,” said Holland. “I told [my teammates] we’ve just got to go out here and don’t worry about the crowd, play our game, and try and find a way back in it.”
While Holland, Tucker and Arthur try and put the loss behind them and look toward their futures at the collegiate level, underclassmen including Hall and Major have already set their sights on next season. They know they’ve got some big shoes to fill, but they are up for the challenge of continuing to further the success of a program that the team’s graduating seniors worked so hard to get to its current level.