INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to the sectional tournament, Columbus East boys basketball coach Brent Chitty hopes his team has a little bit of been-there, done-that in their mindset.
That will make the pain of games such as Saturday’s 49-48 loss to host Ben Davis a little easier to bear. The experience of tough closing minutes might just get them through when everything is on the line.
Without one of its most important floor leaders, senior forward Ridge Harris, East had an excellent chance of handing a loss on a very physically talented Giants squad.
But after the Olympians took a 37-34 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter, they went into a scoring funk where they would be kept without a field goal for six minutes. Their only points during that time were two free throws
by sophomore guard Connor Umphress, who had a breakout game with 23 points.
While East (11-5) was throwing up poor-choice jumpers from the perimeter, the Giants (13-5) attacked the basket. Ben Davis forward Jordan King, who led his team with 12 points, scored three inside buckets during his team’s 10-2 run that gave the Giants a 44-39 lead.
East center Bryce Lienhoop, who had 15 points, worked his way to the line for two free throws at the 1:12 mark to cut the Giants’ lead to 44-41, but East just couldn’t get enough defensive stops down the stretch to claim the victory. From there to the wire, Ben Davis made five of its six free throws.
“In the end, you have to knock down some shots if you are going to win,” said Lienhoop, who was proud of his players for a solid effort without Harris, who was taking his ACT. “And we were missing Ridge, who has been kind of our leader.”
Saturday’s game was a make-up from an earlier game that was postponed due to snow, and Harris already had scheduled his ACT.
In his absence, Umphress served noticed that he is going to be a load to handle down the road. He knocked down three 3-pointers and he slashed to the basket when he would find a hole in the Giants’ defense.
Unfortunately for East, Umphress came down hard, injuring his ankle while trying for an offensive rebound early in the fourth quarter, and had to sit out several minutes.
He eventually came back, sinking a 3-pointer with four seconds remaining to bring the Olympians to within 49-48. However, East was out of time outs so Ben Davis didn’t even have to inbound the ball.
Making the loss even more painful for the Olympians was their fast start. They bolted to 10-2 lead with some great ball movement, working the ball inside to Lienhoop, who scored three baskets during that opening run.
But Ben Davis coach Mark James packed his defense into the paint to shut down Lienhoop’s effectiveness, and the Olympians struggled from the outside. By the end of the first quarter, the Giants trailed only 12-10 and by halftime, they had a 23-21 lead.
“They started packing it in and it was tough getting the ball in there,” Chitty said. “But you’ve got to stay the course.”
Chitty wanted the Olympians to have more patience and work the ball until they could get it inside. When that did happen, either Lienhoop would take it to the rim, or he could kick it back out for open 3s.
“We need to talk a little more,” Lienhoop said. “We have to work the ball around more.
“There’s also got to be some point where I decide that I need to take things over.”
Most of the time that Lienhoop took the ball strong to the basket, good things happened.
Although the loss stung, Lienhoop said that tough battle shows that East is ready for the playoffs. “No team we face is going to be more athletic than that one,” he said. “I think this just shows how ready we are.”