Seneca boys aim for success at sectional

PRINCETON – Seneca’s 24-5 record and Princeton Regional title are evidence that the Fighting Irish have fewer flaws than a typical Class 2A boys basketball team.

One recurring problem – perhaps the only serious, recurring problem – for the Irish has been turnovers. They had 24, including 11 in the third quarter alone, in their 59-54 championship win over Bureau Valley on Friday night. Seneca is averaging more than 14.2 turnovers a game.

Committing 24 turnovers and winning will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Irish when they play Newman Central Catholic on Wednesday in the Bureau Valley Sectional. Newman ended Seneca’s season in the 2013 Byron Sectional with a 45-27 victory and was ranked third in the state this winter in 2A by The Associated Press in a poll released Feb. 25.

“Teams are probably like, ‘We know what to do. We got ’em,’” Seneca guard Conlan Callahan said. “But really, it’s on us. We know what we gotta do going forward, and we’re not concerned at all with pressure or anything, because we’ve been through it, we’ve weathered it. We’ve suffered in it, but we’ve come back, too. It’s not a concern. We’re looking forward to our challenge ahead, and it’s going to be fun.”

Both coach Russell Witte and guard Alex Bott cite “panic” as the reason the Irish turned the ball over four more times in the third quarter Friday than they did in the entire first half. Bureau Valley turned the ball over twice in the third quarter as it cut a 32-13 deficit to 39-33.

“Coach told us to come out, play hard, and that just wasn’t the case. We were coming out to coast, and we know we can’t do that. He told us they’re gonna fight back, and they did exactly what he said,” Bott said. “We just need to start listening to him – every detail he says.”

Seneca’s offensive mistakes were compounded by its defensive struggles. After holding Bureau Valley to 24 percent shooting in the first half, the Irish let the Storm shoot 53 percent in the third quarter. Six of the eight Storm baskets were layups; the others were 3-pointers.

The defensive struggles are less typical for Seneca, which has held opponents to just over 45 points per game on 37 percent shooting, than its turnover woes.

“I wouldn’t say the first [second-half] possession we relaxed. We played solid ‘D,’ they made a good shot, then all the sudden we start turning the ball over,” Witte said. “Now, we stopped thinking next play, and we’re starting to think past play, and that affected us on that end of the floor – defensively – immensely, because we were worried about what the heck was going on on this end of the floor.”

The Irish pulled out of their tailspin in the final 3:16 of the game, when they closed with a 15-10 run. And in the first half, they were effective on both ends, making 52 percent of their shots while turning the ball over seven times.

“If we were to sit down and watch the tape, it’d be a learning experience for ourselves. The first half shows how good we can be, and the second half showed how much we can just kick ourselves and just let it go for ourselves,” Callahan said.

“I mean, they played great. I give Bureau Valley a lot of credit, but I give a lot of credit to our guys, too, ‘cause when we were folding, we got right back up and we never got down, we never turned our heads. We always stayed positive and just kept each other up.”