Boys basketball looks to take back sectional title, faces Shelbyville in tonight’s semifinal

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B. Robinson

Junior Tayven Jackson drives the ball against a Pike defender in the Trojans’ 73-68 win on Dec. 11.

Sam Findley, Staff Writer

After barely surviving the sectional opener against Franklin Central, squeaking out a 38-36 victory, the boys basketball team takes on Shelbyville tonight in the sectional semi-finals.

Last year the Trojans lost to Greenwood in the sectional final, and a potential rematch with the Woodmen looms in the championship game this season. That loss has stuck with the Trojans throughout the year.

Senior Landin Hacker, who leads the team in scoring this season, says the team was motivated from last year’s sectional final loss to the Woodmen.

“It felt bad losing to Greenwood, but we knew that we would come back stronger this year,” Hacker said. “We focused on working hard and making sure we don’t lose this time.”

Tonight’s opponent, Shelbyville, finished the regular season 8-12 and depends on Mitch Yeend for almost everything. Yeend leads the team in scoring with 13.2 ppg, assists with 3.1 per game, and is second in steals.

Keeping Yeend in check offensively will be an important aspect of the game. Sophomore Marcus Ankney, who will likely split time with Tayven Jackson guarding Yeend, thinks team defense is the key to guarding Yeend.

“We will just play solid defense on him and make sure he doesn’t get open shots and contest him when he does shoot it,” Ankney said. “Yeend is the main guy for their team so shutting him down will be huge.”

Shelbyville also has three players who average six plus points besides Yeend. Not letting those secondary options get off easy shots, like sophomore Oliver Sandman did against Indian Creek having 14 points, will be key for the team to advance to the sectional final.

“They all shoot threes so we need to be there on the catch and make sure we close out and make them shoot tough shots,” Ankney said. ”If we are all on the help side and our hands and we communicate then we will take their shooters away.”

A win against Shelbyville will put the Trojans up against Greenwood or Whiteland, who play in tonight’s first semifinal game.

Whiteland provided a unique challenge for Center Grove in the teams only matchup of the season, a 60-53 Trojan victory. Junior Tyler Cerny, who hit the game-winning free throws against Franklin Central on Tuesday night, says the keys to beating the Warriors will be defensive rebounds and limiting opportunities from beyond the arc.

“The last time we played Whiteland they made a lot of tough shots. They also grabbed a lot of offensive rebounds against us and that killed us in the first half,” Cerny said. “If we see them in the sectional final, our priority will be to take away the three-point shot and also box out on defense. When they shoot the ball, we have to have the awareness to find the guys closest to us, get in front of him and push him away from the basket. We will limit threes by always having our hand up when they are on the perimeter. If we contest shots then it will be very difficult for them to make it. If we do those things, then we will have a great chance of winning.”

Center Grove has also played Greenwood this year, a 35-28 county championship game victory. Last year, the Trojans beat Greenwood 41-37 in the regular season, but fell to the Woodmen in the sectional final 43-30.

In Tuesday’s opening game of sectionals, Greenwood scraped out a 28-27 win against Franklin with Greenwood’s Brock Kincaid leading the team in scoring with 12 points.

Senior Ethan Jones believes if the team sticks to their defensive game plan, they will be able to stop Kincaid.

“I think we’ve got five guys that can guard Kincaid, and if we come ready to play, they’re gonna have a hard time hitting shots,” Jones said. “We have to stay patient and not give up the easy play. We have to communicate on defense and can’t fall asleep during those long possessions.”

Sophomore Ethan McComb believes Center Grove will have to have a composed offense to pull out a win against the Woodmen.

“They played at a very slow pace and were solid on defense last time we played,” McComb said. ”If we play them again, we will have to take care of the ball and take great shots in order to win. We need to execute our game plan and not try to make flashy plays.”

The Trojans offensive game relies heavily on the interior game, only hitting two shots from beyond the arc in their victory over Franklin Central. The majority of the team’s scoring on the inside came from junior Tayven Jackson, who led the team in scoring with 15 points on Tuesday night, and junior Shane Bennett’s 10 points.

“Getting to the paint is a big part of our game, especially when shots aren’t falling for us. We really need to take advantage of our size in the paint during the tournament because not too many teams have the size that we do,” Bennett said. “Attacking the paint and getting layups or getting to the foul line is one thing Coach Hahn really stresses to us and we just have to continue to use our size advantage.”

Head Coach Zach Hahn, who clocked his 100th win against Lawrence Central, said it as simply as possible.

“We have to take it possession by possession and game by game to move to the ultimate goal of winning a championship.”