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Sure, tonight’s Columbus North-Columbus East boys basketball game is a neighborhood battle, the kind these same kids have recreated countless times in the park or on a chipping, blacktop driveway.
The prize available following 32 minutes in the East gymnasium is the same as usual. Pride.
Whether there are a couple thousand fans in attendance probably doesn’t matter to the players, who would play hard whether they are shooting into cloth or chain nets.
The wheels have to be spinning, though, for fans who keep a watch on Columbus basketball in general.
This has been a relatively close series over the past 20 games, dating back to the 1996-97 season. North has won 12 during that run, and three of those victories were by five points or less.
East has eight wins, and two of those were by five points or less. The Bull Dogs won the only overtime game among the past 20 and won three of the four sectional games.
By and large, it has been a series where you really couldn’t determine the winner before the teams stepped on the court.
Has that changed?
North (4-0) has won six of the past seven games of the series and is ranked No. 2 in the state behind Carmel. East (3-0) lost seven players from last year, a campaign in which they lost to North twice. The Olympians aren’t ranked in the Associated Press poll among the top 25 teams.
Common sense would tell us that the Bull Dogs should handle the task with relative ease tonight. But common sense doesn’t figure into the percentage from the 3-point arc. Some nights those shots just go down.
It’s why Indiana loves basketball.
People probably didn’t expect East, after those heavy losses to graduation, to win its first three games, including two Hoosier Hills Athletic Conference contests. However, with 6-7 Bryce Lienhoop and 6-5 Connor Umphress showing marked improvement, the Olympians have a couple of bonafide stars.
Granted, North has more depth than East. But in the high school game, you can’t discount the presence of athletes who simply are champions. East baseball pitcher Peyton Gray knows what it takes to win on any field or in any arena. JT Voelker just went through a state championship season in football. That has to be good for something.
Despite the numbers, don’t be surprised if tonight’s game, which begins at 7:30, turns into a thriller.
Keep an eye on point guards Evan Henry (North) and Nate Nolting (East). If Henry controls the pace of play and is allowed to direct traffic, East might be in trouble. The Olympians must find a way to disrupt him.
North, to get the job done, will need to establish its presence under the basket, and that’s not going to be easy. Lienhoop and Umphress are the kind of players who will push back. They might all be friends, but it’s going to get physical tonight.
The student fans from both schools will be at their wackiest, and the pep bands will keep emotions in the stands pumped to the maximum.
The neighborhood battle is here once again, so don’t brick this shot of catching some great entertainment.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 379-5632.
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