Six different players made at least one 3-pointer for Center Grove’s boys basketball team Friday night.
The Trojans demonstrated balance on defense as well, each player knowing 32 minutes of tenacity at that end might be what ultimately sets this team apart.
Center Grove implemented that mindset while defeating Franklin, 54-35, in the second semifinal of the Johnson County tournament at Indian Creek.
“I think now that we’re seeing that if we lock down on defense, get stops and get momentum from defense, that carries over to our offense,” said junior guard Marcus Ankney, whose 11 points made him one of three players in double figures, joining guard Ethan McComb with 12 and senior forward Jordan Vaughns with 10.
“We get energy, and when we have energy, we play good.”
Center Grove (7-4) clamped down to limit the Grizzly Cubs to 13 of 41 field goal shooting (31.7%) on its way to tonight’s championship game against Whiteland. The teams met on Dec. 17, with the Trojans defending their home court in a 61-46 win.
On Friday, Center Grove took the floor having won 10 straight against the Grizzly Cubs, with Franklin’s last win being a 65-60 decision in the first round of the 2016 sectional.
Franklin started the game strong, jumping to a 10-4 lead. However, ignited by an 11-0 scoring run over the final 3:16 of the opening quarter, the Trojans seized control on their way to a 34-19 halftime lead.
Center Grove got things rolling on McComb’s baseline 3-pointer. Ankney followed with a layup off a steal and his own baseline triple before Vaughns threw down a slam dunk to cap the burst. The momentum continued early in the second as sophomore Joey Schmitz drained a trey and Vaughns scored underneath to make it a 20-10 score.
Franklin never got closer than eight points after that in the opening half. The Trojans padded the margin over the final two periods, leading by as many as 25 after another McComb baseline trey made it a 50-25 score for the first basket of the fourth quarter.
Center Grove coach Zach Hahn took his starters out with 1:31 remaining.
“This group has really tried to buy into the defensive end,” Hahn said. “We didn’t make any adjustments as a staff. Our guys just executed the defensive game plan a little bit better. That’s what we have to hang our hat on.
“I think we’re a pretty good offensive team. I think that we play well in transition when we can. But we’ve got to be able to guard and keep people in front with the schedule that we play. That’s been our emphasis, and they’re working and trying to do it.”
Sophomore guard Micah Davis scored 15 points to lead Franklin (4-8). Center Grove senior guard Tyler Cerny grabbed a game-high seven rebounds to match his seven points.
Hahn knows his team’s defense must again be on point tonight against Whiteland if the Trojans are to claim another county title.
“I think they’re a really athletic team, have guys who know their roles and play those roles really well,” Hahn said. “We’re going to have to do a great job again on the defensive end and we’re going to have to block out.
“They’re kind of like us in that they have a very well-balanced team.”
Center Grove has captured three of the last four county championships and four in all under Hahn. Whiteland won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.