Even with Markese Jacobs out for the year, its name dropped from the rankings and a brutal road ahead through the Public League playoffs, Uplift still believes it can be a contender.
In the first half of Tuesday’s first-round matchup against Lindblom, that seemed implausible. In the second half, the Titans presented an exceedingly convincing case. Tavion Underwood soared for huge dunks, Greg Ruben drained in three-pointers and the defense thoroughly flustered the visiting Eagles.
The eventual 68-50 win advanced Uplift (12-10) to Thursday’s second round, where they’ll face No. 3 Morgan Park. There aren’t many bigger opportunities to make a statement than that.
“We have trust in ourselves, believe in ourselves,” said Underwood, who led Uplift with 16 points and seven rebounds. “This is our year. I feel like we still can win state, even without Markese.”
Uplift coach David Taylor said he came out using a different offensive set than he usually employs, because he expected Lindblom (21-5) coach Zach Linderman would’ve fully scouted out the Titans’ usual high-motion offense.
He was wrong. Trailing 36-30 early in the third quarter, Taylor switched back to the typical system — which relies on all five players all moving, all the time — and the Titans promptly dominated, erupting on a 22-2 run to lock down the game.
“(Linderman) probably saw us run motion quite a bit and scouted it, so I wanted to tuck it and bring it out later when they were used to us running another set,” Taylor said. “I was surprised it had as much effectiveness as it did, but it definitely helped us win this game.”
Several of Uplift’s shifty guards — Ruben, Michael Allen (12 points, seven rebounds), Deandre Vortes (nine points) and Detalian Brown (nine points) — really thrived in the chaos, while Underwood took advantage of a number of midcourt turnovers to rack up fast-break points.
“We had to just work as a team,” Ruben said. “Everybody was trying to overdo it and rush. We had to just settle down.”
On the other end, White-Central champion Lindblom’s offense lost all semblance of the fast-pace efficiency they demonstrated against the Red-West/North hosts earlier on. In the first half, the Eagles shot 14-of-26 from the field; in the second half, they plummeted to 8-of-27.
Lindblom forward Marshun Williams finished with 16 points, but was shut out in the second half; junior guard Myles Twyman finished with 10 rebounds, but only two in the second half; star guard Shamar Pumphrey struggled all night long and finished 2-of-11 for four points.
“We got beat to every loose ball, we got beat on the glass, we just flat-out got outplayed,” Linderman said. “Our help-side defense in the first half wasn’t very good and it just deteriorated from there. We didn’t come to play today.”
Lindblom dismissed, Uplift will now face a much bigger challenge next versus Morgan Park, which blew out King 80-54 on Tuesday.
That matchup will not favor the Titans on paper. But already written off without Jacobs, that might be exactly the way they like it.