New Castle, Ind. – Derek Elston had every opportunity and reason to try to take over Tuesday morning's Hall of Fame Classic opener against Bluffton.
After all, the IU-bound forward from top-ranked Tipton H.S. was going up against a Bluffton team that didn't have anyone taller than 6'6" on its roster. Elston was also playing in legendary New Castle Chrysler Fieldhouse at one of the season's marquee events, and he was performing in front of a crowd that featured IU Coach Tom Crean, among others.
But instead of dominating the play, Elston didn't force the issue when he was double or triple teamed and instead fulfilled his role by scoring 14 points, pulling down four rebounds and adding three steals to help lead Tipton to a 49-36 win over No. 3 Bluffton.
"Derek is so unselfish," Tipton Coach Travis Daugherty said. "This is an opportunity for him to come out and showcase himself at the expense of the team, but he's never done that and he never will."
While Saturday's effort was far from his best statistical outing of the season, Elston did showcase his skills during a late first-half flurry that helped Tipton blow the game wide open. After being forced to the sidelines with his second foul early in the quarter, Elston scored nine points in the final 3:42 to turn a 22-12 lead into a 31-14 margin at halftime.
After knocking down a six-footer in the lane moments after returning in the second quarter, Elston scored on back to back dribble drives to his left to extend the lead to 14. He then knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key with four seconds remaining in the half to push the lead to 17.
Elston was forced to the bench with his third foul 2 ½ minutes into the third quarter on a questionable call, but Tipton didn't miss a beat with its standout sitting out most of the third quarter. The Blue Devils extended the lead to 22, 44-22, at the end of three quarters and cruised to an easy win over the third-ranked Class 2A team in the state.
Tipton (8-0) was led by Greg Dickey, who finished with 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Elston, meanwhile, was also 6-of-13 from the floor while playing 23 minutes.
Bluffton (7-1) was led by Brock Woodward, who had 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
While Crean didn't get to see as much of Elston as he might have liked from his courtside seat due to Elston's foul trouble and a mob of autograph seekers, IU's coach did see a player who showed off a great deal of offensive versatility and showed no ill effects from his off-season knee surgery. Daugherty said it was the first time Crean has been able to see Elston this season, coming on the heels of IU assistant coach Tim Buckley's trip to see Elston play Mt. Vernon earlier this month.
Elston was sidelined for most of the summer following the knee surgery but returned in time for the start of his senior season. After the Bluffton game he said the knee is 100 percent and hasn't bothered him at all this season.
The time away from the court gave Elston a chance to spend extra time in the weight room, and it's clearly made a difference in his game. He's added 15 pounds to his frame from a year ago, and he's noticed a difference.
"The game is so much easier now," Elston said. "I talked to some past Tipton players and they asked me about the difference and it's a lot easier now. It's a huge factor to have 10-15 more pounds and you can shove people around inside."
Daugherty has also seen a difference.
"Now, he can really hold his position and he doesn't have to hurry," Daugherty said. "The added weight gives him better balance and that leads to more patience. It's really helped develop him into an even better player."
Crean Sees Elston Lead Tipton Past Bluffton
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