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Loss for Warriors; crown for Hawks

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Host Whiteland was playing to stay in the Mid-State Conference boys basketball race, but Decatur Central was playing to clinch the outright title.

The Hawks used a 16-2 stretch that spanned the second and third quarters to settle the league race decisively with a 62-47 victory.

Decatur Central concluded Mid-State play with a 6-0 record and improved to 10-5 overall.

Whiteland, which entered the game with a 3-1 conference mark, fell to 6-11 overall.

The Hawks led 21-16 with 2:45 remaining in the first half but outscored the Warriors 8-0 to end the half, with two dunks off turnovers and a pair of put-back baskets. After Whiteland’s Dejan Davis hit a jump shot to open the second half, Decatur Central scored another eight unanswered points to build a 37-18 lead with 5:08 to play in the third quarter.

Whiteland never drew closer than nine points after that.

“Their team’s got some long arms and some tall kids, and that caused trouble for us,” Warriors coach Matt Wadsworth said. “They extended their defense and pressed very well.”

Wadsworth was referring specifically to Decatur Central’s 6-foot-7 LuKayus McNeil and Jason Starks, who combined to shut down Whiteland’s Davis during the game’s critical stretch.

Davis wound up tying the Hawks’ Anthony Johnson for game-high scoring honors with 18 points, but only two came in the first half, and he scored 14 of his points after the Hawks built their 37-18 lead.

“That’s the best game those two have played combined,” Decatur Central coach Joe Preda said of McNeil and Starks. “LuKayus is a great athlete for being such a tall kid, and he can match Davis’ quickness on the perimeter.”

The Hawks’ 2-3 zone defense kept most of Whiteland’s field-goal attempts out of the paint. The Warriors shot just 31.8 percent from the floor (14 of 44) but kept the score respectable by hitting 13 of 14 free-throw attempts.

Decatur Central, meanwhile, hit 26 of its 47 field-goal tries (55.3 percent), and 48 of its 62 points came in the paint. McNeil finished with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while Starks added 11 points and six boards. Guard Jimmy Lee added 13 points for the Hawks.

Kyle Alford and John Hubler each scored six points for Whiteland, while Austin Fruits added five.

Whiteland played its final home game of the season Friday and concludes regular-season play with four straight road games. The Warriors are off until a Feb. 9 game at Shelbyville.

“This will be a good physical and mental break,” Wadsworth said of his team, which has played nine games in the past 28 days. “We were basically playing for a conference championship (Friday), and I liked the way we competed.”

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