No Beau. No problem for the Connersville Spartans.
Despite the absence of senior forward Beau Isaacs, Connersville took control early and kept the pressure on for 32 minutes to cruise to a 65-47 win over Richmond Friday night in semifinal action of Class 4A Sectional 9 at New Castle Fieldhouse.
The 14-ranked Spartans, now 25-1, will play tournament host New Castle in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Trojans (17-6) throttled Greenfield-Central, 57-32, in Friday’s second game.
Senior star Grant Smith had 24 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots to help propel the Spartans to the easy win.
Garrett Silcott added 15 points and 5 rebounds, Hunter Sullenbarger knocked down four 3-pointers to score 12 points and Noah Belt totaled 9 points and 8 boards for the winners.
“This is a great win, especially with the circumstances of Beau being out,” Connersville head coach Kerry Brown said afterward. “My hat is off to our kids. We had to have everyone step up and play well and they did. I’m really proud of our guys.”
“We wanted to win this for Beau. Him being out probably made us play even harder,” said Smith. “We want to win out until he comes back. That’s what we’re going to do.”
The Red Devils took a 3-2 lead early in the opening quarter on a trey by junior guard Christian Harvey — the only time Richmond had the lead.
Ahead 10-5 after one quarter, Connersville got a layup by Dalton Huffman, a 3-bomb by Sullenbarger and 3 free throws between Belt and Silcott to open an 18-8 advantage.
Then, Smith canned back-to-back treys within a 25-second span, followed by 4 foul shots, and the Big Red’s lead swelled to 28-9 with 2:26 to go in the first half, which ended with CHS leading, 32-13.
The Spartans were able to move the ball quickly and effectively against the Richmond defense all game, which resulted in many open shots.
“We knew if we got to swing the ball the way we planned we’d get good looks against their man- (to-man) or zone defenses and we did that. We did an excellent job moving the ball and getting good shots.”
Sullenbarger banged a pair of 3s in the third quarter, Silcott, Belt and Huffman added baskets to help CHS take a 44-24 lead entering the final quarter.
Smith didn’t score in the third stanza, but the Indiana All-Star hopeful erupted for 11 fourth-quarter points, which included a sweet pump fake and subsequent dribble-drive move to his right that resulted in a one-hand slam that gave CHS a 50-25 lead and sent the huge crowd of Connersville fans into a frenzy.
“He’s a special player,” Brown said with a smile. “And our fans are great … unbelievable. We appreciate the support so much.”
Every Spartan dressed for the game played, experience, even briefly, that will be valuable in the future.
As far as Isaacs, Brown said the 6-4 forward — who sustained a left knee injury in the final seconds of CHS’ first-round win over Mt. Vernon — has been responding well to treatment and therapy, and his playing again will be a game-time decision.
“It’s always ‘next man up,” said Brown. “We had that tonight by several guys stepping up and playing well. Noah Belt did a fine job. He really played well. All of our guys contributed.”
Saturday’s championship game begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Fieldhouse doors.
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