Most boys basketball teams wouldn’t view a 19-point loss as a reason for hope with a week left before the state tournament begins.
For Center Grove, though, Monday night’s loss to Class 4A No. 1 Carmel provided seeds of optimism that the Trojans will be primed when the postseason begins.
The host Greyhounds used a 13-3 run in the fourth quarter to blow open a tight game and cruised past the Trojans 72-53.
Carmel (18-1, 9-0 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) led most of the night. It had an eight-point lead midway through the first quarter before an 11-2 run gave Center Grove a 16-15 lead at the end of the period.
The Greyhounds reclaimed the lead and stretched it to five before Michael Benkert cut it back to two points with a jumper with 2:45 remaining before halftime. Carmel closed the half with an 8-0 spurt to lead 34-26 at the break.
In the second half, Carmel would extend the lead, only to see Center Grove (7-12, 0-7) creep back into the game. The Trojans whittled a 16-point deficit to seven late in the third quarter and cut a 13-point Carmel lead to seven with 7:11 remaining in the game.
The Greyhounds finally took control with their 13-3 fourth-quarter surge, scoring seven of the points at the free-throw stripe.
That was a trend all night.
Carmel shot better than 53 percent from the field for the game (22 of 41) but hit just 2 of 11 3-pointers. It balanced cold shooting from deep with near-perfect shooting from the free-throw line, knocking down 26 of 28 foul shots.
Center Grove coach Cliff Hawkins said despite the program’s eighth consecutive loss he saw reason for confidence heading into next week’s sectional.
“I’m really proud of what our kids did tonight,” he said. “We have three goals for the rest of the season. We want to focus at our highest level when we play. We want to compete at our highest level when we play. And we want to attack.
“I thought our kids really did a nice job of all those things tonight.”
He added that with several young players getting significant minutes, the two-time defending Class 4A state champions were an especially difficult opponent. The Trojans’ youth showed up in the rebounding game, where they were outrebounded 33-11.
“We’re still a team under construction,” Hawkins said. “You saw three sophomores and a freshman out there tonight. We just couldn’t rebound with them. But to be in the game, even with that disparity, shows that we were doing some other things well.
“I think our kids gained so much confidence from this game. They’ll be fine.”
The Trojans slowed, but did not stop, Carmel’s leading scorer. Junior Ryan Cline scored 17 points Monday night, going only 4 of 11 from the field. Vermont recruit Zach McRoberts and Michael Bruns both scored 16 for the Greyhounds. McRoberts harnessed 11 rebounds.
Benkert had a game-high 19 points. Tyler Bryant added 15 for Center Grove, which shot just 39.1 percent from the field (18 of 46).
The Trojans close the regular season Friday when they travel to Terre Haute North.