Cliff Hawkins has coached enough basketball to be able to extract positives from difficult times.
Lately he’s had little choice.
Mired in an eight-game losing streak dating to Jan. 18, his Center Grove Trojans look to regain some long-lost momentum tonight at Terre Haute North.
This is the final regular-season game for both the Trojans and Patriots, with IHSAA sectionals starting Tuesday.
Terre Haute North, too, has struggled of late with a six-game losing skid.
Sitting in the basement of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference standings with an 0-7 record, Center Grove is being outscored by an average of only 5.6 points in league play.
The Patriots by virtue of their move to Conference Indiana beginning the 2014-15 basketball season are playing only their fifth MIC opponent. This leaves Terre Haute North shy of facing the 60 percent of opponents needed to be included in the conference standings.
Win or lose, the game counts in Center Grove’s final MIC ledger.
“These conference games in a row are against very strong opponents, and we don’t play a weak nonconference schedule, either,” said Hawkins, who tonight watches his team face its fourth opponent — and third road date — in 11 days.
Hawkins holds a 6-3 record against the Patriots, though the Trojans are winless in their past two trips to Terre Haute North.
Center Grove’s most recent victory there, a 55-41 decision, took place in the waning phases of the 2007-08 regular season.
Hawkins liked the Trojans’ competitiveness during Monday’s 72-53 loss at Class 4A No. 1 Carmel — a game closer than the final count indicates.
Center Grove hustled for 32 minutes but was simply outmanned.
“We have limitations, and they are getting exposed more in the MIC,” said Hawkins, whose team’s lack of a bona fide interior presence offensively or defensively has contributed to the losing streak.
“All these players have tried to be part of the solution. I love this team from the standpoint of their effort. We’ve seen huge improvement from the first conference game against Pike (a 74-50 loss) to now.”
As has been the case all season, Michael Benkert and Tyler Bryant lead Center Grove with respective scoring averages of 18.3 and 16.4 points. Benkert also leads in rebounding (6.3), with junior point guard Joey Lenkey dishing 2.8 assists per outing.