Enthusiasm about the 106th-annual IHSAA boys basketball tournament is building in communities throughout Indiana. But sectional play doesn’t begin for another week, meaning some important business remains to be taken care of.
For the Connersville Spartans, that business comes in the form of the final game of the regular season when CHS hosts Northeastern tonight at the Bowl (7:30 p.m.).
Coach Kerry Brown’s squad is 18-5 and won its second consecutive Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference championship last weekend, beating Franklin County and Lawrenceburg to sweep the competition and finish unblemished at 7-0.
Northeastern is 18-3 and ranked No. 3 in Class 2A by the Associated Press. The Knights only losses are to:
• Class A No. 2 Seton Catholic (Richmond), 76-72;
• Class 3A No. 10 Indianapolis Attucks, 83-71;
• Pendleton Heights, 77-73, on Jan. 23. (The Spartans lost to Pendleton Heights, 45-35, on Dec. 12.).
Northeastern has won 8 straight since losing to the Arabians, including a 79-59 pounding of Class A No. 1 Liberty Christian on Jan. 30.
Connersville has won 5 straight and 9 of its last 11. In sewing up the EIAC title last weekend, the Spartans were at their defensive best, blitzing Franklin County, 57-27, and scorching Lawrenceburg, 54-27.
Against Northeastern, the Spartans will need to play defense with the same tenacity. And CHS will have some extra motivation: the Knights defeated the Big Red, 66-63, in overtime last season at Fountain City.
“Northeastern is a very good team and a very well coached team. They’re ranked No. 3 for a reason,” said Brown. “They have some really good players who can score so they’re going to be a challenge for us.”
Tyler Smith has been a handful for all of Northeastern’s opponents. The 6-2 junior averages 21.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 1 blocked shot a contest.
He gets more than ample support from his brother Robert, a 6-7 senior averaging 15.0 points and 9.0 rebounds, and 6-3 senior Bailey Stewart, a transfer from Ohio who contributes 14.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists to the Knights’ cause.
Nate Reynolds, a 6-6 junior, averages 11.9 points and nearly 3.0 rebounds for coach Brent Ross’ team with 6-2 senior DaShawn Jackson chipping in 2.8 points and 2.6 rebounds.
“They present a lot of problems,” noted Brown. “They have size, they’re athletic, they’re quick, they press you and they like to get out in transition and push it. (Tyler) Smith is a really good player who does everything and Stewart has added a lot to them. He’s been playing very well.”
In the wins over Franklin County and Lawrenceburg, Connersville shot a combined 39-of-70 (55.7 percent) — 18-of-31 against the Wildcats, 21-of-39 against the Tigers.
The junior duo of Beau Isaacs and Grant Smith led CHS against FC, with Isaacs scoring 19 points and passing for 3 assists and Smith scoring 12 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing 4 assists.
Senior Tyler Billups recorded 15 points and 6 boards to lead the way against Lawrenceburg, Grant Smith finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Freshman Noah Belt came off the bench to tally 8 points.
Brown and the Spartan coaching staff hope the team continues to play physical basketball and shoot the ball well. Tonight’s game, the coach said, will be an excellent prelude to next week’s sectional.
“This game is going to be a real challenge for us and it will definitely help prepare us for the sectional, no matter whether we play Richmond or Greenfield-Central,” said Brown. “It’s going to be a good ball game between two good teams and it’s Senior Night. We’re looking forward to it.”
• Grant Smith: 11.5 p, 4.6 r, 2.8 a, 1.4 st, 1.0 bks
• Tyler Billups: 11.5 p, 3.3 r, 1.4 a, 1.1 st
• Beau Isaacs: 11.4 p, 6.0 r, 1.1 a, 0.9 st
• Garrett Silcott: 8.3 p, 3.6 a, 2.5 r, 1.3 st
• Chandler Graves: 2.7 p, 3.1 r, 0.9 a, 0.9 st
• Noah Belt: 3.0 p, 0.7 r
• Dalton Huffman: 1.7 p, 1.2 r
• Wes Smith: 0.9 p, 0.5 r
• Dalton Lee: 0.8 p, 0.3 r
• Gavin Wickes 0.7 p, 0.3 r
• Braxton Revalee 0.1 p
• Hunter Sullenbarger 0.0 p, 0.1 a
Area / of interest
Northeastern (Class 2A No. 3) at Connersville
Franklin County at South Dearborn (EIAC)
East Central at Richmond
Pendleton Heights at Indianapolis North Central (Class 4A No. 3)
Mt. Vernon (Fortville) at Westfield
Tri at Hagerstown (TEC)
Wapahani at Centerville
Hauser at Knightstown
Winchester at South Adams
Frankton at Muncie Central
Seymour at Columbus North
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