When it comes to one-and-done time in Indiana high school basketball — the last few days of February when sectional play begins and coaches and fans start getting that antsy feeling — the bottom line is quite simple.
Which is exactly the way Connersville head coach Kerry Brown viewed the situation after his hard-nosed Spartans did battle with a determined and similarly gritty Greenfield-Central team Tuesday night.
“It’s survive and advance. All it is now is survive and advance,” Brown said after CHS’ 50-41 win over the Cougars, the opening game of Class 4A Sectional 9 at Richmond’s Tiernan Center — and a game Connersville (21-4) led by as much as 17 points early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s survive and advance and we were able to hang on and win a tough game and we’re going to be playing Friday night.”
That Friday semifinal matchup is against Mt. Vernon (Fortville) (13-9), the team that seems to have an agreement with the Spartans mandating that whenever the two schools play, the game has to go into overtime.
The Big Red beat the Marauders in OT, 42-37, on Jan. 26 at Spartan Bowl, the third straight overtime game between the schools, including a double-overtime masterpiece in last season’s opening game of Sectional 9 at New Castle Fieldhouse (CHS 59, MV 55).
Against GC Tuesday, the Spartans utilized their usual patient, swing-the-ball-swiftly passing attack and sticky, hounding defense to take a 17-9 lead after one quarter — the last CHS hoop a nice, up-and-under right-hand layin at the buzzer by senior guard Garrett Silcott, who scored a team-high 16 points.
Brown’s charges limited the Cougars to just four points in the second stanza — until 6-6 senior Will O’Connor popped a long 3-pointer at the buzzer.
O’Connor’s trey cut Connersville’s advantage to 27-16 at halftime, but the Spartans swarming defense was even more effective in the third quarter — a 3-pointer by sophomore Logan Graddy with 27 seconds on the clock, the only points GC scored in the frame.
However, thanks to O’Connor — who made six trifectas in the final eight minutes and finished with a game-high 25 points — the Cougars were able to chip away and then some, chopping the CHS lead to 46-41 with 54.9 remaining.
But GC was forced to foul the Spartans, with subsequent free throws in the final 45 seconds by Silcott, junior forward Noah Belt and senior guard Braxton Revalee sealing the win.
Brown gave O’Connor full credit for stepping up big time in the clutch for Greenfield-Central. “The big key for us was to hold him down, not let him score, and we did that for three quarters,” said the coach.
“So you have to give us credit for the first three quarters, and give him credit for the fourth quarter. But he shot the ball really well … I’m glad he didn’t shoot like that the whole game.”
Senior Dalton Lee, who made all seven of his free throw attempts and a pair of 3-pointers, scored 15 points for Connersville, Belt added 13, senior Wes Smith scored 3 on a long first-quarter trey, sophomore guard Clay Garrison scored 2 points and Revalee had 1.
Brown always wants the Spartans to play as well as possible, but he knows that isn’t possible.
However, playing as well as needed Friday night and winning the game will be fine with him.
“I don’t care if we end up playing a bad game Friday as long as we win,” he said.
“I don’t expect us to play poorly and I don’t think we will, but if we do and still get the win, that’s all right.
“As I said, it’s survive and advance. That’s what matters now.”
New Palestine defeated Pendleton Heights, 71-56, in Tuesday’s nightcap.
The Dragons (14-9) play tournament host Richmond (8-16) in Friday’s second semifinal game (7:30 p.m.).
Mr. Pizza, Cambridge City