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Trojans encouraged despite loss

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A difficult second half of the boys basketball season continued Friday for Center Grove, but the Trojans are confident they have found a bit of a spark in the second part of Friday’s Metropolitan Conference matchup with visiting North Central.

Center Grove fell behind quickly and never recovered in a 69-51 MIC loss to the Class 4A No. 10 Panthers. But Trojans coach Cliff Hawkins thinks his team’s second-half effort and execution might just turn around the second half of the season.

After falling behind 36-15 at halftime, and trailing by as many as 28 in the third quarter, Center Grove outscored North Central 19-12 in the fourth quarter and 36-33 after the half.

The Panthers played close to their normal lineup even as the margin widened.

Senior Tyler Bryant provided Center Grove’s second-half offensive spark. The Trojans’ lone senior, playing his final home game, led scorers with 25 points, all but three in the second half, and 16 in the fourth quarter. He hit all six of his second-half 3-point attempts after shooting just 1 of 7 overall in the first half.

His game summarized Center Grove’s overall offensive output. The Trojans (7-11 overall, 0-6 MIC) hit just 5 of 24 field-goal tries in the first half (20.8 percent), but rallied to shoot 12 of 22 (54.5 percent) in the second half.

“You can’t start many games shooting like that and expect to be in the game,” said Hawkins, whose team has lost seven straight games and 9 of its past 10. “The second half boiled down to Trojan pride.

“We lacked an inner fortitude in the first half and laid it on the line in the second half.”

North Central (13-6 overall, 6-3 MIC) took full advantage of Center Grove’s first-half struggles. The Panthers built leads of 14-2 in the first quarter, 33-12 in the second period and 57-29 in the third quarter before the Trojans outscored them 22-12 the rest of the way.

The Panthers hit 30 of 55 field-goal tries (54.5 percent), with 21 of those baskets coming in the paint. Eron Gordon and Michael Loggan each scored 12 points for North Central, while Jordan Walker added 10 off the bench.

The Panthers also dominated the boards, outrebounding the Trojans 34-15.

“We’ve been working on that,” North Central coach Doug Mitchell said of the rebounding disparity. “We’re athletic and quick to the ball, so you’ve got to use what you’ve got.”

Michael Benkert added 18 points and a team-high five rebounds for Center Grove, and kept the game from getting completely out of hand in the first half. He scored 12 of the Trojans’ 15 first-quarter points, but didn’t score in the second period. He collected his third foul with 4:22 remaining in the half, further weakening Center Grove’s offense.

The Trojans only managed three second-quarter points, all on a Bryant 3-pointer with 2:08 to play in the half. North Central scored 13 straight points before Bryant’s three, extending a 20-12 lead to a 33-12 edge.

“We knew Center Grove was a good 3-point shooting team, but a lot of their threes come from their inside-out game,” Mitchell said. “That was one element we wanted to stop, so we were pleased with that.”

The loss was the Trojans’ seventh straight after starting the season 6-2. They only played one MIC game before Jan. 24, a 74-50 loss Dec. 13 against Pike, and their final eight regular-season games include seven MIC foes. They play again Monday at top-ranked Carmel, another conference opponent, but Hawkins is more worried about the Trojans than the opposition at this point.

“We need to forget about the schedule and just lay it all out there,” Hawkins said. “If we play two halves like we did the second half (Friday) and still get beat, we can live with that.”

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