The number of times a Center Grove team played Northwestern High School before Friday night could be counted on one hand — if at all.
Credit a holiday girls basketball tournament for putting these unlikely combatants on the same court.
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Northwestern, located west of Kokomo and ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, won the annual Columbus North Invitational with a 48-37 victory in the championship game on the strength of 6-foot-1 sophomores Madison Layden and Kendall Bostic.
Layden, a point guard, led all scorers with 21 points to go along with five rebounds and two assists. Bostic had 14 points and a game-high 10 boards.
The Trojans dropped to 12-3 overall despite senior guard Cassidy Hardin knocking down five 3-pointers on her way to 18 points.
“It’s a regional-type day where you have to prepare on a short stretch,” said Center Grove coach Kevin Stuckmeyer, alluding to his team’s 50-29 defeat of Mooresville in a morning semifinal. “But their length just killed us. We had a lot of turnovers and they challenge shots.”
The Trojans made only 13 of 52 field-goal attempts (.241) and attempted three free throws compared to the Tigers’ 18.
Trailing by six at halftime, 28-22, Center Grove never got closer than that in the second half. An 8-2 scoring run by Northwestern to open the fourth quarter pushed the lead to as much as 14.
The Tigers entered the tournament Thursday as the state’s fourth-leading scoring team at 68.5 points a contest and second in terms of average margin of victory (38 points).
Against Center Grove, Northwestern netted its second-lowest point total of the season.
Tigers coach Kathie Layden, whose program has had a target on its back all season and should for at least the next two years, was impressed.
“I thought Center Grove did a really good job of forcing us into things that we didn’t want to do offensively,” Layden said. “Their defense was pressuring us, and I felt like it took us out of a lot of things that we normally do.
“They were pretty much man-to-man, pressuring and switching on a lot of screens. We just didn’t adjust very well at times, but ultimately I think we did a good job of taking care of the ball.”
Northwestern made 16 of 43 field-goal attempts and outrebounded Center Grove 32-23.
Things don’t get easier for the Trojans, whose next two games are at home against twice-beaten Whiteland (Tuesday) and Class 4A No. 2 Carmel (Jan. 5). After that, it’s the sternest of road tests at 4A No. 1 North Central on Jan. 11.