The Indian Creek and Franklin boys basketball teams no longer meet during the regular season.
Someone should change that today.
In an opening game of the Johnson County Tournament that felt like a 1960s sectional throwback, a packed and boisterous gym saw the host Braves hang on for a tough 71-66 victory behind the play of Dylan Phair and Jared DeHart.
“It sure felt like a sectional,” said Indian Creek coach Derek Perry, whose team improved to 8-3 and moves on to face Whiteland in a semifinal contest at 6 p.m. Friday at Greenwood. “From the fans’ point of view, for everyone involved, it was a great game.”
Much of that fan view was spent standing on and at the top of the bleachers as the two student sections especially exchanged a game-long cheering match from opposite ends.
“It was awesome,” said Phair, a senior guard who moved from Franklin to Indian Creek this school year and heard the good-natured taunts of his former classmates. “This was a great experience playing against my old buddies. It was great to get the win.”
Phair paced the Braves with 23 points, including 18 in the first half as Indian Creek pulled out to a 36-29 halftime lead it would not relinquish.
Turnabout was fair play on the opposite end of the court, as well, where Indian Creek transplant Cameron Smith posted 24 points in a losing effort, never quite enough to silence the black-clad Braves’ student section.
“We all knew coming in that they were going to be real excited for it,” Phair said of the energized atmosphere. “You’ve just got to stay focused in the game and try not to worry too much about what they’re saying. If you let them get in your head, then you won’t be able to play your own game.”
The Johnson County rivals took little time heating up the gym, both hitting more than 60 percent in a fast-paced first quarter that saw the Braves take an 18-17 lead.
Indian Creek’s ability to work the ball inside effectively to forward Gynson Robley proved to be a difference-maker as the game unfolded, though, as the football quarterback negotiated the lane effectively on his way to 17 points.
“They were playing the post,” Perry said. “Anytime we see chests, we like to hit it. When we didn’t settle for outside shots and attacked the bucket, we got our spurts going.”
A most decisive spurt came early in the third period. After Franklin’s Bryce Wentzell hit a layup to cut the lead to 51-48, the Braves defense clamped down, shutting out the Cubs for the next four minutes.
Meanwhile a Robley steal and three-point play highlighted a nine-point Indian Creek run from which Franklin could never recover.
“Our communication went away from us a little bit,” said Franklin coach Brad Dickey, whose team will play Edinburgh in Saturday’s fifth-place game. “We’re not where we want it to be.”
Senior center Nik Welch’s three-point play spurred a late run to get the Cubs within five points with just over a minute left.
They could get no closer, though, as DeHart grabbed an offensive rebound and made a layup to secure the win.
Braves guard Spencer Wood added 15 points. Wentzell had 13, including 3 of 5 from long range, for Franklin. Both teams shot near 50 percent and handled the ball effectively despite intense defensive pressure.
“There was a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm in the gym,” Dickey said. “This was a fun game to be in. I just wish it was a little more fun for us. It was good for our kids to experience that.”