Center Grove earned its rematch with host Franklin for tonight’s Johnson County Boys Basketball Tournament championship but couldn’t shake Friday’s semifinal opponent, Edinburgh, until late in the first half.
The Lancers, who lost to the Trojans in the 2012 championship game, trailed 19-17 with 2:41 remaining in the half. That’s when Center Grove junior forward Michael Benkert, already a dominant force in the game for the Trojans, took over.
He scored six of Center Grove’s next nine points, including a put-back basket with two seconds remaining in the half, capping a 9-2 end-of-half run that gave the Trojans a 28-19 halftime lead.
Edinburgh never drew closer than seven the rest of the way as Center Grove cruised to a 51-33 victory.
The Trojans’ win, coupled with the Grizzly Cubs’ 57-40 victory against Whiteland in Friday’s first game, set up tonight’s title-game matchup, which will tip off about 7:30.
Franklin defeated Center Grove in last year’s county final, but Center Grove won at Franklin 56-44 on Nov. 26 this season and won the 2011 and 2012 crowns.
Benkert led all scorers Friday with 25 points, and he also grabbed a game-high six rebounds. He hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, then took his game inside, scoring 14 of his other 16 points in the paint.
“Between Tyler (Bryant) and all of our other open shooters, (Edinburgh) had to pick and choose,” Benkert said, explaining his offensive opportunities. “I hit threes early, then we made the commitment to get the ball inside.”
Center Grove’s defense, which gave Edinburgh several different looks throughout the game, harassed the Lancers into 20 turnovers.
The Trojans, after committing seven first-half miscues, finished with 11 but didn’t lose the ball again until 1:30 remained in the game, when their coach, Cliff Hawkins, emptied his bench.
Center Grove held Edinburgh to just 14 second-half points.
“We were a little sloppy early after a nine- or 10-day layoff, but a lot of things improved for us as the game went on,” Hawkins said. “Michael was very efficient. He had some assists, some put-back baskets, and this was probably his best all-around game.”
Bryant added 10 points for the Trojans (7-4), while Joey Lenkey and Austin Crowder scored six points apiece. Center Grove shot 46.3 percent from the floor (19 of 41), and held Edinburgh (5-3) to 39.4 percent shooting (13 of 33).
“We’ve been shooting 35 or 36 percent all year,” Edinburgh coach Drew Glentzer said. “Our kids understood what kind of a game we were getting into. Our effort was there, and we competed all the way through, but Center Grove put Benkert in the middle of our zone where he could hurt us, and he was the best player out there tonight.
“He’ll be the best player we’ll play against all season.”
Collin Hoskins led Edinburgh with 16 points, shooting 6 of 12 from the floor. Matt Heagy added seven for the Lancers, who will face Whiteland in today’s third-place game about 5:45 p.m.