The Connersville Spartans will play their final regular season game tonight, and victory No. 23 is far from a sure thing.
The 13th-ranked Spartans, 22-1 overall and winners of 14 straight, travel to Fountain City to do battle with Northeastern (7:30 p.m.). The junior varsity game begins at 6 p.m.
The Knights (18-4) are rated 4th in Class 2A and have won 7 consecutive outings.
Head coach Kerry Brown said he expects the hosts to apply full-court pressure against the Spartans defensively and try to play an up-tempo game.
“They’ll try to get it into a transition game. They’ll run it up and down the floor as much as they can,” he said. “They’re a talented team and they’re well coached. It will be a difficult game.”
Northeastern has dominated the Tri-Eastern Conferernce even more than CHS has the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference.
Head coach Brent Ross’ Knights’ team’s have won 28 straight conference games and have beaten TEC opponents 43 consecutive times in all.
The last Knights’ loss this season was on Jan. 21, to 4A Pendleton Heights, 71-54, at PH.
Last Friday, Northeastern beat TEC foe Winchester at home, 75-59, with 6-0 senior guard Tyler Smith scoring a game-high 27 points for the winners.
Smith got ample support from 6-6 junior Freeman Brou, who scored 14 points, Jordan Stolle (13 points and 4 assists), Nate Reynolds (9 points and 7 rebounds) and Kaleb Mikesell (6 points).
The versatile Smith averages 24.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.2 steals to lead Northeastern. Reynolds, a 6-5 senior, averages 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds, Brou averages 11.0 points and 5.1 caroms and Stolle, a 6-3 freshman, averages 6.8 points.
“Northeastern is another long team … two 6-6 guys, a 6-5, 6-3,” noted Brown. “Reynolds stretches the floor and he can shoot the ball. And Brou is good inside, he can finish strong. They’ve got several guys who can hurt you.”
But Smith — a Florida Southern commit — is the Knight who will have the biggest defensive target on his back.
“We need to keep him out of the lane. He’s a good penetrator and he makes some tough shots,” said Brown.
“And we can’t let him have any open shots from outside. We’ve got to play good team defense and be aware of where he is all the time.”
The Spartans — rated 18th in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll — are still riding high from their 62-55 EIAC win over Lawrenceburg.
The team’s 20th straight victory in conference play was the 200th win in Brown’s 16-year coaching career. (His record in eight years at Connersville is 118-75.)
Senior forward Hunter Sullenbarger canned seven 3-pointers and scored 21 points for CHS, which led 20-6 after one quarter, and was ahead 48-28 after three quarters before 5-9 guard Curtis White led a Lawrenceburg comeback that cut the deficit to 56-50 with 54.8 seconds left.
Connersville was able to regroup and make the plays necessary to pull out the win, with Beau Isaacs making four free throws in the final 36 seconds to secure the outcome. Grant Smith added 16 points for the Spartans, Isaacs also reached double figures, scoring 13 points.
Last season, Connersville made 30-of-32 foul shots (93.7 percent) to defeat Northeastern, 69-56, at Spartan Bowl. Grant Smith was 16-for-16 from the charity stripe and scored 20 points to lead the Big Red. Garrett Silcott made all 10 of his free throw attempts and scored 19 points, Isaacs finished with 16 points.
Brown knows the Spartans will be in for a tough battle against one of Class 2A’s best teams. “We beat them at home last year and they beat us on their court the year before that (66-63 in overtime) so we know what they’re capable of,” he said. “We need to go up there and play strong and close out the regular season with a win.”
Sagarin ratings: CHS: 83.67 overall, 70.26 strength-of-schedule (129th), No. 33 4A, No. 37 all schools.
Northeastern: 76.33 overall, 64.56 strength-of-schedule (190th), No. 4 2A, No. 88 all schools.
Stats-wise — Northeastern: Tyler Smith: 24 p, 6 r, 4 a, 3.2 st; Nate Reynolds: 11.5 p, 4.4 r, 3 st, 2.3 a; Freeman Brou: 11.0 p, 5.1 r, 1 a; Jordan Stolle: 6.8 p, 2.9 r, 1 a, 1 st; Jalen Hillard: 3 p, 3 r; Harrison Rice: 2 p, 3 r; Kaleb Mikesell: 2 p, 1.5 r.
Connersville statistics (22-1)
Grant Smith: 17.6 p, 10 r, 4.9 a, 1.7 st, 1.3 bks
Beau Isaacs: 12 p, 5.5 r, 1.4 a, 0.6 st
Garrett Silcott: 11.2 p, 4.1 a, 3.5 r, 1.3 st
Noah Belt: 6.7 p, 1.9 r, 1 a, 0.5 st
Dalton Huffman: 5.2 p, 2.4 r, 0.5 st
Hunter Sullenbarger: 2.8 p, 1 r, 0.5 a
Braxton Revalee: 0.4 p, 0.8 r, 0.4 a
Dalton Lee: 0.9 p, 1.2 r, 0.5 a, 0.3 st (21 gms)
Wes Smith: 0.8 p, 0.8 r, 0.5 a (16 gms)
Gavin Wickes: 1.2 p, 0.3 r (14 gms)
If you can’t make it to the game, you can listen to the action on Kmix 106.9 fm featuring announcers Sam Harvey and Dave Pollard. Kmix 106.9 can be accessed via the iTunes media player.
The game will be webstreamed on the RadioTroy website.
One other area game tonight has Franklin County (10-11, 2-4 EIAC) hosting South Dearborn (5-16, 1-5 EIAC) in a conference match up.
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