Mirror Images / Bull Dogs, Cougars have plenty of similarities entering sectional matchup

Two teams who have spent plenty of time in quarantine this boys basketball season will square off tonight in the opening round of the Bloomington South Sectional.

For Columbus North, tonight’s 8 p.m. matchup with Bloomington North will be its first game in 24 days. The Bull Dogs also went 24 days between games in December.

“I think it helped us that this was our second quarantine because I think we learned a few lessons from our first quarantine,” Columbus North coach Paul Ferguson said. “We were a little sluggish when we came back from our first quarantine, and we’ve coached our guys a little bit on how to come back ready. A lot of that has been mental reps and game film because there’s not a lot you can do when you can’t get in a gym. We watched a lot of film on ourselves and a lot of film on Bloomington North.”

The Cougars, who, like the Bull Dogs, are 11-4, also went 24 days between games in December and January. Bloomington North had another 19-day stretch without games in January and February.

The Cougars did get to play two games last week, falling at Covenant Christian and New Albany.

“It’s a very interesting matchup, because like us, they spent some time in quarantine this year,” Ferguson said. “They’re kind of in the same boat we are. The difference is, they got to play their last two games, while we were in quarantine, so the timing worked out a little bit better for them.”

The Bull Dogs last played Feb. 6 in a win at East Central. Two days later, a player tested positive for COVID-19, and the team went in quarantine for two weeks.

Columbus North returned to practice last week.

“I’d by lying if I said we got back to where we were before because that wasn’t the case,” Ferguson said. “It’s hard to come back from a two-week layoff, especially when the guys were quarantined and didn’t have a lot of places to go to work on their game. But I was pleased with their effort, and we did the best we could, given our circumstances.”

Senior Blake Barker leads the Bull Dogs with 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. Sophomore Cooper Horn averages 11.4 points, and senior point guard Reese Harmon adds 10.8 points and 5.1 assists.

The Cougars have four players averaging in double figures, led by senior Isaac Vencel at 15.3 and junior Nick Klaiber at 14.3 points a game. Senior Aaron Steinfeldt averages 11.1 points and 8.3 rebounds, and sophomore Jaqualon Roberts adds 11.0 points.

“We know Bloomington North is going to be very tough competition,” Ferguson said. “They’re a very balanced team, a very athletic team. They have size. Klaiber is an outstanding point guard. They do a lot of things very well. They’re athletic, they push the ball in transition and we’re going to need to play very well to beat them.”

The Bull Dogs and Cougars did not get to play during the regular season. They were scheduled to meet on Feb. 19 at Columbus North, but the Bull Dogs were in quarantine at the time. With both teams going 3-0 in Conference Indiana, conference athletics directors decided to award them each a share of the title.

The winner of tonight’s game will meet Columbus East in Friday’s semifinals. Martinsville will play in Friday’s first semifinal against the winner of tonight’s opener between Bloomington South and East Central. The sectional final is at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“My players are very excited to get the opportunity to play again,” Ferguson said. “I would have liked to have been able to knock some of this rust off. But we had a competitive week of practice last week and are looking forward to getting to play a basketball game again. We’re planning on coming out and playing our best game of the season.”