Ice cold shooting, turnovers and harassing defense by a taller opponent spelled doom for the Connersville Spartans Saturday night.
No. 12 Ben Davis took control in the second quarter and blew past the 14th-ranked Spartans, 44-21, to win the Southport Regional championship and put an end to Connersville’s storybook season.
CHS finishes with a fine 27-2 record. Ben Davis (21-5) will play No. 8 Castle next Saturday in semistate play at Seymour.
Castle (24-3) defeated No. 1 New Albany, 72-64, to win the Seymour Regional.
“We just ran into a giant tonight — the Ben Davis Giants,” Connersville head coach Kerry Brown said. “We didn’t have our A game tonight and we had to have an A game performance.”
With at least 5,000 red-clad fans cheering them on, CHS drew first blood when junior point guard Garrett Silcott drained a long 3-pointer.
What was in store after that was totally unexpected by the Spartans, the coaching staff or the CHS fans.
Giants guard Jalen Newsome made three consecutive treys to help Ben Davis take an 11-10 lead after the opening quarter, and the Giants opened the second stanza with an 11-0 run to take a 22-10 lead that would never be threatened.
Connersville’s last basket in the first period — a 3-pointer by senior forward Beau Isaacs at the 2:57 mark — was the only field goal the Spartans would make until Silcott converted a layin with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
Isaacs again was forced to come off the bench due to a left knee injury that is not fully healed, and he played limited minutes.
The 16-minute scoring drought proved fatal, as the longer and quicker Giants scored inside and out, played tight defense all night and dominated the backboards.
The Big Red scored just two points in the second quarter, a pair of free throws by senior star Grant Smith.
Hawked and shawdowed all night, Smith finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds. His first basket, a 3-pointer, came with 6:22 remaining in the game.
His only 2-pointer of the night was as sweet as could be — an all-in-one-motion, reverse slam off an offensive rebound with 3:22 on the clock. It was the team’s final basket of a sterling season.
The Spartans finished with just five baskets — three 3-pointers and two 2-point field goals. CHS made all 8 free throws it attempted, 6 by Smith and 2 by sophomore guard Noah Belt.
Silcott finished with 5 points, Isaacs had 3 and Belt 2.
Newsome scored 12 points to lead the winners, 6-6 junior Aaron Henry had 11 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocked shots and 6-5 senior Joshua Brewer added 7 points.
“It’s been a one-of-a-kind season, a great season,” Brown said. “Ben Davis is a really good basketball team. I’m proud of our kids, they never gave up but we didn’t have an answer tonight.”
Brown lauded all of his players and acknowledged the Spartans fans, whose staggering numbers left a significant impression with fans from the other participating schools.
“We’re losing some great kids and we’ve got some really good kids coming up,” he said. “The bar has been set high and we’re going to keep working hard.”
The Spartans made it to the title game by beating Brownsburg, 55-49, in overtime. It was Connersville’s seventh straight overtime game victory, which extending a state record.
CHS, which trailed by as many as 9 points in the fourth quarter, survived an extremely physical game that at times appeared to be a rugby match, with fans from both schools scratching their heads in disbelief and loudly voicing their displeasure at many calls — or non calls.
“It didn’t look good early. Their physical play hurt us and had us off balance,” Brown said after the grind-it-out win. “Things weren’t going too good for Grant and things weren’t going well for Garrett either. Grant was frustrated but he got past it and made some big plays at the end.”
Smith — who scored the game’s first basket on a slam off a lob pass from Hunter Sullenbarger — led CHS with 23 points and 9 rebounds. The dunk put Smith over the 1,000-point mark for his career.
The 6-6 wingman made a huge block of a short jump shot attempt by the Bulldogs’ Cameron Alford as time was running out in regulation. Smith snagged the rebound, took a couple dribbles and was able to launch a shot from near midcourt that glanced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Dalton Huffman and Smith both got inside for baskets to open the overtime and give the Big Red a 48-44 lead.
Sullenbarger canned a layin off an nice assist from Smith to put Connersville on top, 50-47, and the Spartans got free throws from Huffman and Smith the rest of the way to close out the win.
Huffman and Silcott both scored 12 points, Belt had 6 and Sullenbarger scored 2.
Notes: The Spartans committed 17 turnovers, many of them unforced, 10 coming in the first half.
Isaacs — whose birthday is today — played sparingly as he continues to recover from a left knee injury.
Connersville fans filled at least two-thirds of the stands in Southport Fieldhouse. The CHS crowd serenaded Isaacs with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ as the Spartans warmed up before the game.
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