East rallies in second half to top Panthers

NORTH VERNON — After back-to-back Hoosier Hills Conference losses, Columbus East found itself trailing at a third consecutive defeat when it trailed Jennings County at halftime of Friday night’s HHC boys basketball battle.

But in the second half, the Olympians came to life. They battled back to capture a 68-63 win and remain alive in the conference title race.

“The first half offensively, we were fine,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “Defensively the first half, we didn’t talk, we didn’t move and we just kind of got in a lull there. The second half, we came out and pressured the ball better. We moved and into help positions better. The offense really didn’t change. We kept attacking the basket, and we pulled ahead.”

The Panthers (7-12, 1-5) led 29-25 at halftime and stretched the margin to six after Weston Miller scored to begin the second half. They still led 42-38 with 1:30 left in the third quarter before East (7-9, 3-2) scored the final eight points of the period, taking advantage of a pair of turnovers, to grab a 46-42 advantage.

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“I thought we played well both halves,” Land said. “We had some costly turnovers at the end of the third quarter and gave them some easy baskets.”

The Olympians pulled away in the fourth quarter. They made 21 of 24 from the line for the game.

“The win is great, but the way we won — doing what we do and trying to fine-tune it — I’m really pleased with a road win in this conference,” Chitty said.

“I wish we could have those for New Albany and Jeff,” senior Drew Johnson said. “But we worked a lot this week on free throws. It’s something that coach Chit has always put in our heads — just keep shooting them and practice — so that was a big part of this week and getting ready for this game.”

Johnson finished with a career-high 27 points to lead East.

“Coach Chitty and (assistant) coach (Sean) Miller made some key offense and defense changes,” Johnson said. “They told us we need to be talking more. We weren’t rotating as well. So I think the energy level was a lot better, and we started working on offense a lot more.”

Tyler Boyer added 14 points for the Olympians. Matt Frost had 10.

Aaron Martin and Cody Wilson scored 17 apiece to lead Jennings. Josh Pettit added 14, and Weston Miller had 10.

“We struggled to guard Johnson all night long,” Jennings coach Josh Land said. “He did a good job getting the ball in the paint and finding the open guy. I really thought that was the difference. We couldn’t keep the ball in front of us. They shot too many free throws just because we weren’t quick enough.”