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Olympians come up short in title bid

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The Columbus East boys basketball team will have to wait at least another year to break its Hoosier Hills Conference championship drought.

The Olympians had a chance to earn a share of the HHC title Wednesday night with a win at Jeffersonville. But the Red Devils spoiled East’s opportunity with a 74-68 win.

The Red Devils appeared headed for an easy win when they led 60-45 in the closing seconds of the third quarter. But Bryce Lienhoop’s put-back just before the buzzer sparked a 21-8 run that allowed the Olympians to cut the lead to 68-66 with 2:17 left in the game.

East had chances to cut the lead to one on a couple of occasions after that but missed its final five 3-point attempts, and the Red Devils held on.

“Our kids battled in the second half and got right back in the thing, and I’m proud of them for that,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “We had a couple decent looks. We just had to knock down some shots.”

The Olympians (15-4, 5-2) trailed 36-25 at halftime after committing 12 turnovers and shooting 8 of 29 from the field in the first half.

“I thought we didn’t shoot the ball as well as we needed to the first half,” Chitty said. “We didn’t do as good a job in the first half defending.”

In the second half, East went 15 of 29 from the field and committed only three turnovers.

“I thought we were a little bit tougher with the ball,” Chitty said. “But we missed some free throws. We have to knock those down.”

Lienhoop led the Olympians with 24 points and 20 rebounds. Connor Umphress added 22 points for East, which outrebounded Jeffersonville 37-29.

Drew Ellis, a University of Louisville baseball recruit, led the Red Devils (11-10, 3-4) with 26 points. Keenan Williams scored 24, and Dionte Allen added 12.

“We played a good game, but the last three weeks, we’ve been playing a lot better,” Jeffersonville coach Matt Pait said. “We struggled early in the year, and through the middle of January we had some roster changes and lost a guy or two, and we’ve kind of started putting it together.

“Tonight, we played more to our potential. The first half was maybe one of our better halves, and then the second half, we didn’t play defense as well as we would have liked.”

The Olympians’ loss means New Albany wins the HHC title outright with a 6-1 record. East must regroup for Friday’s regular-season finale at Plainfield and then in Tuesday’s Shelbyville Sectional opener against East Central.

“It’s very disappointing because you want that (title) for your kids,” Chitty said. “They wanted it, and it hurts.

“What you have to do is, that negative hurt, you have to turn it into positive energy, and hopefully that will lead us through Friday, right into sectional,” he said. “You have to take negatives and turn them into positives, and that’s going to be the next task for this team.

“This was a tough pill to swallow, but the great teams can turn around.”

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