Urbana rolling after slow start

The Urbana boys basketball team sat in its locker room after losing at home to Springfield. The players were disappointed, but they chose to talk about the future. The time was now, they decided, to become a better team.

That team talk happened on Dec. 27 when the Hillclimbers were 4-4. Today, they are 18-5 and headed to a Division II sectional semifinal.

“We just sat there and made it a goal of ours to take it one game at a time, but we had 14 left and we were going to try to win all 14 of them,” coach Jeremy Dixon said. “We almost made it.”

The Hillclimbers won 13 straight and finished 10-0 in the Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division to win their third straight title. Their winning streak ended Tuesday night in a two-point loss at Shawnee, the three-time CBC Kenton Trail champ.

The winning streak propelled the Hillclimbers to the No. 1 seed in the Division II sectional that is being played this week at Springfield High School. They opened tournament play Saturday with a 54-35 victory over Graham behind 17 points from Alex Niswonger and 13 from Sam Niswonger.

Urbana’s pursuit of reaching the district tournament resumes at 6 p.m. Tuesday against No. 4 Bellefontaine (14-8). If the Hillclimbers win that one, it’s likely they would face No. 2 Tippecanoe in the sectional final next Saturday.

In the bottom half of the Springfield bracket, Shawnee is seeded No. 3 and Carroll is fifth.

“Any one of four or five teams could have been No. 1,” Dixon said. “Clearly we’d rather be No. 1 than No. 5, but all the games between those top four teams have been close all year long. I think there are teams outside of those top five that are capable of winning some games. It’s going to be a very balanced section.”

Being No. 1 is no guarantee for the Hillclimbers. Urbana was the top seed two years ago but couldn’t get past Trotwood-Madison in the final. But the Rams have moved up to Division I where they are a top seed. Dixon said after the Shawnee loss that he felt his team was ready for the tournament.

“We’ve learned a lot about our team over the last 14 games,” he said. “Our defense for the most part has been very good over this run. The other thing is our balance.”

The Hillclimbers allowed 45.5 points a game this season, best in the CBC, and 39.1 in the 10 division games. On offense, they are not a team that needs one or two particular players to score. Nathan Mays (13.5 points per game), Dillon Knueven (11.4), Alex Niswonger (10.6) and Caleb Honore (9.4) have all been the leading scorer this season. And Sam Niswonger has scored in double figures the past two games.

“We don’t need one guy to help us carry the load,” Alex Niswonger said. “I think that will help us make a deep run into the tournament.”

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