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Slow start dooms Center Grove

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Three words formed a simple black-lettered message on the back of each Warren Central basketball player’s gold warm-up jersey prior to Friday’s game:

Finish the competition.

Before playing host to conference rival Center Grove, the Warriors had come up short in this area, losing six games by a total of 29 points and going 1-3 in those extended to overtime.

This time around, coach Greg Graham’s squad lived up to the wording. Warren Central jumped on Center Grove early and rode the 21 points and nine rebounds of 6-foot-6 center Devin Davis to a convincing 65-51 victory.

“It was a hard basketball game for us to play because it’s difficult trying to simulate their quickness and their length,” said Trojans coach Cliff Hawkins, whose team falls to 0-5 in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference standings and 6-9 overall. “We could never get the rotation we needed defensively.”

Center Grove never led in this one. The Warriors broke free from an early 2-all deadlock with nine consecutive points and were off to the races with an 18-point halftime cushion that twice in the third period grew to as much as 20.

Warren’s athleticism, particularly that of Davis, who next season will be wearing the cream and crimson of Indiana University, proved too much to overcome. Davis twice delivered crowd-pleasing two-handed slam dunks off alley-oops, while the Warriors’ flurry of quick hands defensively limited the Trojans to 19-of-58 (.328) field-goal shooting.

To Center Grove’s credit, it nonetheless managed to sprinkle in some suspense during the final two quarters. Midway through the third quarter two 3-pointers by guard Brady Brown and another from the top of the key from center Troy Vorhies quickly sliced what had been a 20-point deficit to 12 at 41-29.

A similar scenario unfolded in the final stanza. Warren Central’s apparent home-free 19-point margin got chopped to 11 after junior swingman Tyler Bryant finally located his perimeter touch for a pair of treys, point guard Ryan Pendygraft was good on two free-throw attempts and Brown scored a hoop.

Warren Central then pieced together a 7-0 scoring run late to put the game away.

The Trojans’ shooting woes in the first half produced only eight field goals in 29 attempts (.276), including one 3-pointer in 13 tries. Warren Central’s 14-of-22 marksmanship (.636) from the floor coupled with a 15-9 upper hand in rebounding resulted in the hosts leading 36-18 at the break.

Now losers of four straight games and five of their past six, Center Grove did manage to place four starters in double-figures. Bryant tallied 12 in a losing cause, with Brown, Vorhies and 6-4 sophomore Michael Benkert adding 10 apiece. Vorhies with nine boards narrowly missed out on a double-double.

“The key to flipping this is getting the ball inside, then back out and then maybe back inside again. We have to work on getting the ball inside and doing something with it,” said Hawkins. “This team is hanging in there and still growing and maturing.”

Senior guard Sam Thompson came off the bench to lend 14-point support for Warren Central (9-6, 3-3), while rugged 6-5 junior forward Jaraan Lands contributed 10 points.

Center Grove returns to action Thursday night when it steps away from league competition to play at Bloomington South. The Trojans then turn around and host Terre Haute North on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. due to Center Grove playing host to a girls basketball sectional championship game that evening.

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