Highlanders’ ‘D’ rips Cougars
By Wade Bell, Sports Writer
Former Indiana University men’s basketball coach Bobby Knight once said, “Good basketball always starts with good defense.”
Saturday night, the Floyd Central Highlanders boys’ basketball team proved how true that statement is when they manhandled host North Harrison in a 58-43 win. The Highlanders’ defense kept the Cougars off balance all night long in a game of two strong teams which came into the game with identical records of 8-2.
“It was not a thing of beauty, but we’re pretty happy with it,” said Floyd Central coach Todd Sturgeon. “They have a good team and, to come over here on the road and get a double-figure win, I learned a long time ago, when you get a double-figure win on the road, you just get on the bus and smile. That’s all you need to do. … ”
“Their defense is what I want our defense to be,” said North Harrison coach Lou Lefevre. “Every single thing on offense was hard for us the whole game. They’re up on you, and it’s hard to beat them, even if you’re up on the ball and bothering them. It’s hard to get an open look. We got very few open shot looks. When we were able to beat people, there was always a help guy there and it’s always rotation. It’s very frustrating to try to play against them because of a defense like that. Every single thing is difficult, and that’s what a great defense is.”
The game opened with both teams trading paint back and forth. Midway through the period, the Highlanders ran off seven straight points to lead 12-5. Logan McIntire scored on a putback for the Cougars, but Cole Harritt drilled a three at the end of the period and the Highlanders led 15-7 after the first eight minutes.
McIntire and Floyd Central’s Tevi Ali traded the first four baskets of the second quarter, then Nathaniel Hoffman and Sawyer Wetzel traded paint. Hoffman scored again, but Ethan Oakley negated that for the Cougars. The trading session continued with Caleb Washington and Oakley trading three-balls. Brady Moore canned a short jumper to start a 6-0 Floyd Central burst for a 32-18 lead. Wetzel scored again in the paint, but Washington countered with his second three-ball and the Highlanders went to the locker room with a 35-20 lead at the break.
“I was pretty happy to have that cushion at halftime,” Sturgeon said. “I really thought it was a little bit sloppy. Both teams, I think, had a little bit of a hangover against tough conference games last night. They’re physical, and Lou prepares well and (North Harrison assistant coach) Gregg (Walters) knows all of our calls and I’m trying to whisper what we’re calling out. He knows I’m too old to change anything, so there’s the same stuff there as when he was with us a couple of years ago.”
“We really did a tremendously good job early on,” Lefevre said. “I think initially their strategy was they were going to go down low, and we haven’t done a great job of playing post people down low. We did a great job on (7-foot center Wesley) Celichowski. We did a great job winning the spot and being ready on the help and bothering the ball. He got frustrated and started fouling us. I think they changed their game plan that they were going to beat us on the perimeter.”
Moore gave the Highlanders a pair of freebies to start the second half, but McIntire countered with five, closing the gap to 12. Harritt then drilled his third three of the game in return. Kaleb Kellems put in two from the charity stripe for the Cougars, but Ali countered twice in the paint, the score at 44-27, advantage Highlanders.
The fourth quarter was more of the same back and forth between the two teams. The Cougars made a slight gain when Oakley scored inside and McIntire drilled a three. The two teams traded baskets one final time with Floyd Central getting the 58-43 win.
“We held Jeff to nine points in the second half last night,” Sturgeon said. We’ve had flashes of defending pretty well. We’ve got to get more consistent with it. We had a few breakdowns with it. These guys are good and run stuff that can get you out of whack at times.”
“That’s what I’d like our defense to be and that’s, hopefully, what we’re going to try to be, where we’re making everything difficult,” Lefevre said. “And they did, they really beat us on the perimeter. They caught us relaxing and beat us with the dribble. They caught us without the help people where we needed to be, and they got easy enough chances to make it.
“They’ve got so many good shooters that they only need a little bit of space that you can’t help on two of them and focus on two of them because they have four good shooters on the court at all times.”
Floyd Central put four players in double figures with Moore, Ali and Washington each scoring 12 for the night. Harritt added 11 for the Highlanders, while Celichowski was held to zero points, sitting out most of the game in foul trouble. Floyd Central connected on 24 of 42 field goals (57%) and all four of their free-throws attempts. The Highlanders finished with 10 turnovers for the game.
“It was pretty balanced,” Sturgeon said of his team’s scoring.
“Again, we’ve been like that all year. That’s just kind of who this team is, but that’s good. They share the ball, and that’s fun, but sometimes it leads to us getting out of whack. They know they’re going to play off that one guy. That can be an advantage in some aspects.”
“I knew he was going to get in foul trouble,” Sturgeon said of his center. “They were going to be physical guarding him. They did a good job, and that’s part of us being sloppy. But also to their credit, they had a plan to deal with him. That’s something we’ve got to get better at and learn from when we play teams that are going to do that.”
McIntire led North Harrison with 19, and Oakley followed with 13. The Cougars put in 17 of 37 from the field (46%) and 9 of 14 from the charity stripe. North Harrison finished with 12 turnovers.
“We’re 8-3, and I think that’s where we were last year at this time,” Lefevre said. “We’ve got to say this second half of the season we’ve got to really zero in and maybe get a little more progress than we did last year when it’s playoff time. We’ve got to start playing the way we want it and, if teams are going to beat us, they’re going to need more luck than just outplaying us. If you’re hoping to win by luck, your chances aren’t going to be very often. Floyd Central didn’t need any luck today. They out-skilled us and, hopefully, that’s what we’ll be able to do.”
“I just think it’s good experience,” Sturgeon said. “In February, we’re hoping to be playing Friday and Saturday night and in early March. So, this experience of two tough teams back to back is, hopefully, something that we can learn from and continue to grow and have confidence, have a tough, physical, emotional game on Friday and you’ve got to bounce back and go play again.”