In a game that basically featured anything possible, the Connersville Spartans took control early, establishing an 8-point lead, relinquished that advantage during a cold-shooting second quarter, but regrouped to survive a wild finish and beat host and No. 20 Shelbyville, 59-57, in overtime Saturday night.
CHS improves to 3-0 and will host Pendleton Heights (3-1) next Saturday at Spartan Bowl (7:30 p.m). The teams were tied in this week’s Associated Press poll, both ranked 22nd. However, PH was crushed by No. 6 Carmel Saturday night, 75-32, on the Arabians’ home court.
CHS made it’s first seven shots against Shelbyville, opening an 18-12 lead that eventually grew to 26-18.
The red-hot, long-range shooting of Golden Bears’ guard Zach Kuhn cut the Spartans advantage to 26-21 after the opening quarter, and Kuhn kept firing away, scoring 8 points in the second quarter to help the hosts take a 33-29 lead at halftime.
A free throw by Grant Smith and a basket by Garrett Silcott late in the second stanza were the only points Connersville scored during the period.
The Spartans turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, with Silcott hounding Kuhn as much as possible. Kuhn did not score in the third quarter, which ended with CHS leading, 45-41.
“He was making some tough shots. We put Garrett on him and his defense really helped,” Spartans head coach Kerry Brown told Kmix 106.9 radio. “I think that helped us get out of here with a win.”
The third quarter also featured some crowd-pleasing highlights for the vocal Connersville fans in William L. Garrett Gymnasium.
Smith, who led CHS with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists, dunked off a nice lob pass from Silcott, and converted a steal into a breakaway slam. The back-to-back throw downs tied the game at 33, and sophomore Noah Belt gave the Big Red a 45-41 advantage entering the final quarter when he made 3 foul shots after being fouled on a 3-point try at the buzzer.
The Spartans did a good job staying focused at the end of regulation and in overtime, overcoming a near 3-minute scoring drought in the final quarter, scrambling on defense to cause a loose ball as time was expiring, a pair of missed foul shots by Silcott and an inbounds violation that gave Shelbyville the ball and a chance to tie things — or win it on a 3-pointer — with 1.1 seconds left.
Smith was able to get a hand on the ball to prevent the hosts from getting off a shot, allowing the Spartans to remain unbeaten.
“They’re a very good basketball team,” Brown said about the Golden Bears. “This was a tough game in a tough atmosphere and a game like this will only make us better.
“This was a challenge that we needed and we got out of here with a win. Now we have to get ready for Pendleton Heights.”
Silcott finished with 15 points and 6 assists, Beau Isaacs scored 11 points and grabbed 5 rebounds. CHS got a big lift from senior center Dalton Huffman, who maneuvered inside to score 8 points and pull down 3 boards. Belt finished with 3 points and Hunter Sullenbarger came off the bench to score 2 points.
Kuhn scored a game-high 31 for Shelbyville, senior Cooper Lewis added 13.
Connersville’s Jr. Spartans made it 3 straight victories with a 51-31 win over Shelbyville’s reserves. Tyler Combs scored 14 points and Drew Sherck added 9 for coach Chris Bottomley’s crew. Dylan Logan and Clay Garrison scored 8 points apiece.
Notes: Members of the 1972 Spartans state championship team are scheduled to be honored during a reunion at the Pendleton Heights game. Coach Myron Dickerson, 1972 Mr. Basketball Phillip Cox, Jim Free and Gerald Thomas are expected to attend, according to CHS officials.
Brown’s record is 99-74 in 8 years as Connersville’s head coach. His overall record in 16 years is 181-172.
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