Stop if you’ve heard this before about a Steve Lynch-coached team: an experienced unit finding success because of an inherent togetherness and an unyielding commitment to defense.
In his first season at Brownsburg, the former Mt. Vernon coach has taken a Bulldog outfit that finished 11-10 and allowed 50.5 points per game in 2012-13 to new heights in 2013-14, leading Brownsburg (21-2) to its first sectional crown in six seasons while surrendering 43.2 ppg — the 11th-best defensive average in the state. The Bulldogs face Pike (14-8) in the second semifinal of the Southport Regional Saturday.
After seven seasons in Fortville and guiding the 2012-13 Marauders to a 24-2 record and the school’s first regional crown since 1991, Lynch left for the Class 4A Hendricks County school last April.
The building blocks of experience and defense are the two evident parallels between No. 5-ranked Brownsburg and the 2012-13 MV group. The former’s top nine scorers are either juniors or seniors; the latter started two sophomores, a junior, two seniors, spent a good deal of the season ranked No. 1 in 3A and only allowed 42.4 ppg.
“This group has been very consistent. The one thing I can say about this group is that they’ve shown up to compete every night and we haven’t had too many stinkers as far as not showing up or not getting the job done on the court,” said Lynch of his initial Bulldog unit, whose only defeats are to the current No. 1 (Carmel) and No. 3 (Hamilton Southeastern) ranked teams in 4A. “Like any coach I wish we would practice better, but they’ve been pretty good about showing up on time, getting on the court and doing what they’re supposed to do.”
When he was hired, Lynch became Brownsburg’s third coach in four seasons. Former Butler guard Ronald Nored was at the helm in 2012-13 before leaving to take an assistant coaching position at South Alabama under Matthew Graves, another ex-Butler player. (Nored was a few months into his tenure at South Alabama when he joined Brad Stevens’ regime with the Boston Celtics). Nored had replaced Joshua Kendrick, who resigned after the 2012 season following an eight-year stint with the program — which included a 4A state championship in 2008.
Kelli Waggoner made Lynch her first hire after taking over as Brownsburg’s athletic director in March of 2013.
“Steve’s the kind of person that we needed at the time. The seniors had three coaches in four years,” said Waggoner, a Brownsburg graduate. “He came in and meshed well with the community and won the respect of the boys because they knew his history. We needed someone with his leadership and commitment.”
Lynch was 103-52 at Mt. Vernon, and had previously been an assistant coach under current UCLA coach Steve Alford at Manchester College (Ind.) and Missouri State, as well as with now-Indiana assistant Tim Buckley at Ball State. Unaware of the overall talent his team possessed, it took Lynch the whole summer to realize his team’s potential.
“We knew we had a couple kids that were pretty talented. (Division I recruit) KJ Walton had a reputation before we got there. We had a couple seniors were really working hard in the AAU circuit. We had a couple other kids that wanted to try out that did not play for Ronald,” Lynch said. “They looked good in the gym, but by not being on the team last year, we weren’t sure. We had some success in June, and then we did sit around and say, ‘Well if we can get a few things to go our way, we can be pretty decent and competitive.’ (But) April through June, we weren’t real sure what we were going to have.”
Things began to really click for the Bulldogs in mid-December when, on back-to-back nights, they picked up a road win at Zionsville and topped Avon on a buzzer-beater by junior guard Darrian Ringo.
“To win at Avon and come home and beat Ben Davis on a last-second shot kind of propelled us into Christmas,” Lynch said. “If we were willing to work and get better and kind of clean up some of our execution things, which had happened over time, this team did have a chance.”
The Bulldogs have won 12 in a row since their second loss of the season Jan. 17 to Hamilton Southeastern. Brownsburg hasn’t played many close games during its win streak, but did pull a four-point victory over Terre Haute North and a 3-point overtime triumph over Mooresville in its first two sectional wins. In the Mooresville win, senior guard Trevor Lucas forced overtime with a 2-pointer late in regulation, while classmate Tyler Houston secured the win with two free throws in OT. Lucas and Houston are two of the group’s six seniors.
“I think that’s one of the keys to our success, that we have a junior and senior-laden team. They’ve been through the games and know what getting ready to compete is all about,” Lynch said. “I feel like we’ve got a pretty mature group that likes to compete and a group that’s willing to play together, and that’s my good fortune to be able to coach a group like that. They really play well together, and because they are a little bit older, were not dealing with maturity issues; we’re dealing with basketball issues, and those are always fun things to coach.”
Then there’s Lynch’s patented tight-knit defense. Five of his seven Marauder outfits owned defensive averages of 50 points or less, and his last squad, almost exclusively operating out of a 2-3 zone, only allowed two teams to reach more than 50 points in a game. The Bulldogs have excelled defensively using more than one defense, and Lynch said his players bought into his defensive principles from the outset.
“We’ve mixed in a lot more man (-to-man) this year. We’ve played the 1-3-1 (zone) and played a little bit of 2-3. We played a lot of man-to-man late in the season. It just seemed like our kids did well in that system,” Lynch said. “We’ve really mixed in 1-3-1 in at the right times and have been able to close things out in the 1-3-1. We’ve been fortunate to pick the right defense at the right time.
“I thought we won a lot of games early with the idea of ‘they can’t win if they can’t score.’ Our kids kind of jumped on that and were able to stop a lot of teams in transition and we rebounded the ball well early.”
Last season’s Mt. Vernon squad cruised through regional play, downing Danville 56-41 and Frankfort 70-49. On paper, things won’t be so easy for Brownsburg Saturday at Southport. Though the Bulldogs beat Pike 64-50 on Dec. 14, the Red Devils have reached the regional final in each of the past two seasons.
Saturday’s first semifinal features No. 2 Tech (23-2) and No. 7 Richmond (22-2). The Titans are headlined by Kentucky recruit Trey Lyles, while the Red Devils are a stingy defense squad (39.6 opponents’ ppg last five games). The championship game is at 8 p.m.
Lynch agreed with the assertion that Southport is a “loaded” regional.
“You’ve got (coach) Bill Zych at Pike who has won four sectionals in a row,” he said. “You’ve got three Division I players at Tech, and Lyles is probably a pro in the waiting. And obviously Richmond had a heck of a year.”
Richmond ended Mt. Vernon’s season on its way to the Sectional 9 championship. The Marauders finished the year 9-14, struggling with injuries and roster turnover. Lynch kept in touch with “quite a few” of his former players and watched them take third place at the New Castle Hall of Fame Classic on Dec. 28.
“I thought they battled and did a good job. When a new coach comes in, you’ve got to establish your thinking and the kids have to figure it out,” Lynch said. “I have no doubt (first-year coach) Travis (Daugherty) is going to do a great job. He’s got a great young group to work with. You love it when it works, but sometimes it doesn’t and you have to keep working.”
Lynch has fit in well with his new community. His two children are active athletically and his wife, Amy, teaches physical education at Eagle Elementary, one of the district’s primary schools.
Waggoner said Lynch’s players respected him for uprooting his family and making a sizable change in his life, and now follow his lead.
“The group had a good nucleus and has continued to grow and found their roles. They respect each other and the coaching staff,” she said. “When you win, you win together. And quite honestly, that’s how this team has been put together. They do it together.”
Southport Regional Preview
>>A preview of Saturday’s Southport regional semifinals with start times, key information and comments from former Mt. Vernon and current Brownsburg coach Steve Lynch. Championship game is 8 p.m.
Richmond (22-2) vs. Indianapolis Tech (23-2), 10 a.m.
Per-game averages: Richmond 66.0 ppg offense, 49.6 ppg defense; Tech 77.7 ppg offense; 59.9 ppg defense.
Regional titles: Richmond 21, last in 1992; Tech 9, last in 1978.
Rundown: Richmond beat Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and Pendleton Heights en route to its first sectional title since 1996. Tech is paced by a trio of Division I recruits, future Kentucky Wildcat Trey Lyles (24.3 ppg, 13.0 rpg) plus Jeremie Tyler (16.0 ppg, 1.9 spg) and Rashaun Richardson (5.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg), a pair of Ball State recruits.
Lynch on Richmond: “I think they’re pretty balanced. They have some guys that can play.”
Lynch on Tech: “Trey creates so much for his team. They’re pretty excited about their work and as a collection, the seniors are trying to put a good run together.”
Pike (14-8) vs. Brownsburg (21-2), noon
Per-game averages: Pike 60.1 ppg offense, 57.0 ppg defense; Brownsburg 56.6 ppg offense, 43.2 ppg defense.
Regional titles: Pike 7, last in 2012; Brownsburg 7, last in 2008
Rundown: Pike won its fourth straight sectional title last weekend, and will be looking to avenge a 64-50 defeat to Brownsburg on Dec. 14. The Bulldogs’ defensive average is 11th-best mark in the state, and the team’s offense runs through junior KJ Walton (18.1 ppg), who holds Division I offers from Illinois State, Minnesota and Xavier.
Lynch on Pike: “They’ve been there. Coach (Bill) Zych has won four sectionals in a row. They graduated a ton of kids, and you’ve seen their team get better and better. Their kids have grown into their roles. They’re certainly battle-tested because of who they play. They know how to win close games. We’re going to have to do a great job keeping them off the glass and dealing with their athleticism.”
Lynch on Brownsburg: “Those key components every night — limiting transition, taking care of the basketball on offense and doing a real solid job rebounding on the glass — the kids have done a nice job on that all year. It seems like every time you look at the stat sheet, those are the things that affect winning, and our kids have done a good job in that area.”