The Brian Cook Classic boys basketball tournament won’t be held next season, which gives it a little more meaning right now.
It’s already special to Madison High School coach Jeff Smith, who coached Cook and renamed the Madison Classic after his death in 2000 at the age of 16.
“It hit me again when I was hanging up the Brian Cook banner,” Smith said. “It probably means more to me … the kids didn’t know Brian. But this is our tournament. We always talk to the kids about defending their home court.”
His Mohawks kicked off the 22nd Cook Classic by defeating defending champion Cincinnati Christian 60-56 on Thursday night, and the Talawanda Braves followed with a 51-48 triumph over Miami Valley.
So it’ll be Madison (5-3) vs. Talawanda (3-5) for the title Friday at 7:30 p.m. CCS (5-3) will meet Miami Valley (3-6) in the consolation game at 6 p.m.
“Talawanda did a great job of exploiting their size. I think we’ll have our hands full,” Smith said after watching Thursday’s nightcap. “They’ve kind of fought through hard times, and they look like they’re putting it together. They do some things that give us trouble.”
The Mohawks will head to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for a holiday tournament next December, but Smith is planning to host the Cook Classic again in 2019.
“We need to win this so we can be a two-year reigning champion without even playing next year,” Smith said with a smile. “It’s a nice group of Butler County schools we have for this tournament. If those guys will hang with us, we’ll do it again in 2019.”
Talawanda is happy to be here and playing for a title. The Braves were just 3-20 last year and haven’t enjoyed a winning season since 2008-09.
“It’s big, especially with our school’s history,” Talawanda senior forward Ty Hornsby said. “We need to win tomorrow, and that’ll set this season off right.”
The Braves have won three of their last four games after a tough start, and THS coach Tim Reed said he’s having fun in his first year at the helm.
“It’s a great group of kids to be with. I enjoy coaching them,” Reed said. “Having a chance to win a tournament is a big step because they haven’t been very successful around here in a while. Madison’s a great club. It’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Madison advanced by building a 14-point lead and holding off CCS down the stretch.
The Cougars were down 54-40 and 56-52 with under two minutes remaining, but took advantage of some missed free throws by the hosts and chopped the deficit to 58-54 on Johnny Nimmo’s 3-pointer with 17 seconds left.
Cameron Morgan’s two foul shots with 7.3 on the clock essentially sealed the win for the Mohawks.
“I figured we had one more good run in us. You’ve got to believe, and the kids believed,” CCS coach Carl Woods said. “But when a team like that gets a double-digit lead, it’s going to be tough to come back and win it.
“Overall, we played sloppy and had a lot of mental lapses. We know we’re going to deal with some inconsistencies as a young group, but we’re growing up and learning. Let’s go ahead and continue to weather these storms and be ready going into the tournament.”
Nimmo had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Cougars, who watched their five-game winning streak come to an end. Cameron Rogers scored 13 points, and Winston Spencer added 9 points on a trio of 3-pointers in a 65-second span in the second period.
Cincinnati Christian isn’t at full strength. Freshman guard Devin McKinnon suffered a season-ending knee injury in a scrimmage, and junior guard Cole Martin — a transfer from Lakota West — isn’t eligible to play until Game 12.
Madison has dealt with injury issues as well. Sophomore guard/forward Grant Whisman returned to action Thursday after sitting out because of a concussion and a wrist injury, while junior point guard Mason Whiteman has come back after hurting his thumb at the end of football season.
And junior center Levi McMonigle, a Valley View transfer, will join the Mohawks in their 12th game.
Said Madison junior forward Ryan Duritsch, “I think we’ll have a good future.”
Duritsch collected 13 points and 10 rebounds off the bench against CCS. Whisman had 13 points and six boards, Matt Gomia tallied 10 points and six caroms, Morgan marked 9 points, and Tristan Sipple chipped in 8 points and four assists.
Smith said the defensive play of the Duritsch brothers, Ryan and senior Kevin, was a key factor in the win.
“We kind of took away their inside play with the Duritsch brothers in the second half,” Smith said. “They helped swing the game our way.”
For Ryan Duritsch, Thursday’s game marked just the fourth time he’s scored in double digits during his varsity career. Duritsch said rebounding and defense are his focus.
“I’m more defensive than offensive, but I still had a few points (Thursday),” he said. “It was good passes from all my teammates.”
“He’s a great offensive rebounder,” Smith said. “We feel like he can score and he’s getting better, but when he gets points, that’s icing on the cake. We want him to be a double-figure rebounder.”
Thursday’s second game featured a career-best 25-point performance by Hornsby. He also grabbed 10 boards and said he was buoyed by his family’s presence in the crowd.
“I felt great,” Hornsby said. “I was loose tonight, and shots were going down. It was just the faith that my team has in me and the confidence that I’ve got to have.”
The Braves were behind most of the night, but that wasn’t unfamiliar territory.
“We’ve been behind most of the season,” Reed said. “But we’re getting better. We’re getting a little more confidence. We’ve just got to get a little more flow on offense. We go through spurts where we don’t score a lot and that’s a concern, but we’ll keep working at it.”
Talawanda climbed out of a 6-point hole in the last four minutes and surged ahead for good (49-48) on Evan James’ 3-pointer with 59.3 seconds left.
Hornsby added two free throws with 17.8 ticks remaining, and Miami Valley was whistled for an offensive foul 15 seconds later.
“They missed some shots down the stretch, and our defense picked up a little,” Reed said. “We went to a switching defense that we didn’t use early in the game. That helped us out a lot.”
James has been recovering from an illness and came off the bench, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Josh DeWitt also had 8 points and 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 DeWitt and 6-5 Hornsby give the Braves a sizable inside presence.
Miami Valley was led in scoring by Marc Williams (20) and Alec Martin (14). Williams also contributed nine boards.
Cincinnati Christian 14-12-9-21—56
CINCINNATI CHRISTIAN (5-3): Riley Reutener 3 0 8, Johnny Nimmo 6 0 15, Wayne Lavender 3 1 7, Miguel Ringer 1 0 2, Cameron Rogers 5 2 13, Winston Spencer 3 0 9, Alex Mitchell 0 2 2. Totals: 21-5-56
MADISON (5-3): Mason Whiteman 2 0 5, Cameron Morgan 2 4 9, Matt Gomia 4 0 10, Ben Paarlberg 0 1 1, Grant Whisman 6 0 13, Tristan Sipple 2 4 8, Ryan Duritsch 6 1 13, Jake Munafo 0 1 1. Totals: 22-11-60
3-pointers: C 9 (Nimmo 3, Spencer 3, Reutener 2, Rogers), M 5 (Gomia 2, Whiteman, Morgan, Whisman)
Miami Valley 13-15-14-6—48
TALAWANDA (3-5): Ryan Henes 1 0 2, Tommy Winkler 1 1 4, Ty Hornsby 10 5 25, Josh DeWitt 4 0 8, Evan James 5 0 12. Totals: 21-6-51
MIAMI VALLEY (3-6): Alec Martin 5 3 14, Kaelan Patel 1 0 2, Marc Williams 7 3 20, Pruthvi Choudary 2 0 5, Jake Wang 1 0 3, Armaan Cheema 1 2 4. Totals: 17-8-48
3-pointers: T 3 (James 2, Winkler), M 6 (Williams 3, Choudary, Martin, Wang)