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Trojans stay close but drop thriller

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Center Grove’s boys basketball team started Friday’s game as the aggressor against host Perry Meridian. In the second half, the Falcons played that role and rode it to a victory.

The Trojans committed just four first-half turnovers, but Perry Meridian’s aggressive back-court defense forced Center Grove into 10 second-half miscues. The Falcons, meanwhile, lost the ball just three times in the second half and converted several turnovers into fast-break baskets in a 56-52 comeback victory.

Center Grove (5-4) held a 45-38 lead after Michael Benkert hit a layup 11 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Perry Meridian (7-2) took control from there, outscoring the Trojans 14-1 during the next four minutes to take a 52-46 advantage.

Center Grove rallied to a 52-all tie with 2:07 remaining, but the Falcons hit 4 of 6 free throws down the stretch, and the Trojans didn’t score again.

“Those were two really good teams, and we just had a hard time handling the ball in the second half,” said Center Grove coach Cliff Hawkins. “We just made too many costly turnovers. We have a few things we’ve got to change on the offensive end, but I was proud of our effort and impressed with Perry Meridian’s effort.”

The Trojans took control early, building a 20-10 lead with 5:58 remaining in the first half, but the Falcons hung around, never letting the lead expand. Center Grove led 40-30 midway through the third quarter but couldn’t put Perry Meridian away.

The Falcons’ Broc Bennett was the main aggressor, scoring six of his 13 points during his team’s 14-1 spurt, including two steals that he took all the way for layups, and another driving basket. Perry Meridian hit 4 of 5 field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter and made 14 trips to the free-throw line, hitting nine.

“Our defense was really good early. Perry Meridian just picked it up on us even more (in the second half),” said Hawkins. “(Perry Meridian coach Brent) Keck has done a great job of skill development and teaching his kids toughness.”

Brady Brown led Center Grove’s balanced scoring effort with 15 points, while Benkert added 10 and Tyler Bryant and Troy Vorhies scored nine apiece. Perry Meridian’s Dylan Windler led all scorers with 17 points, while the Falcons’ John Beineke added eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

“We had balanced scoring, and we had a willingness to complete plays,” said Hawkins. “We had won three in a row, but now it’s on to the next one.”

Center Grove is off until next Friday when it plays host to Metropolitan Conference rival and defending Class 4A state champion Carmel.

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