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A look back at sectional championship gamePosted Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at 1:17 PM
Eastern Greene basketball players, coaches and fans celebrate after the Thunderbirds defeated Sullivan 47-44 to win the Class 2A North Knox boys basketball sectional Saturday night. (By B.J. Hargis/Greene County Daily World).
And why not, both teams were ranked among the best in Class 2A and each had won their respective conference championships and 20 games during the regular season
I have known coach Jeff Moore since he first came to Sullivan in 1990 and had the pleasure of watching them several times this season. I also was able to watch Eastern Greene in person on several occasions and wondered if this was the last season we would get a chance to watch Andy Igel patrol the EG sidelines.
In my cluttered mind, I was going over possible match-ups. I was wondering who would guard Eastern Greene's JT Yoho and who from EGHS would check Sullivan's Rhett Smith.
I debated whether sharp-shooters Tyler Brough of Eastern and Kaleb Pirtle of Sullivan would match each other from distance or would there be a X-factor, the player averaging two or three points that would step up and score 12. Would either team fall victim to the other's defensive pressure?
A coaching friend of mine from Sullivan and I would talk and we would compare notes about how each team was playing and ponder how a possible meeting would play out.
It all came to fruition Saturday night when I was among a throng of nearly 4,000 spectators to watch the No. 2 Thunderbirds take on the No. 6 Golden Arrows.
In typical Hoosier Hysteria fashion, the sectional championship was not decided until the final seconds. It was not until a desperation 3-pointer from halfcourt by Sullivan forward James Lisman was wide right that Eastern Greene walked away with a 47-44 victory.
Although I am not a prognosticator nor have I ever played one on TV or in real life, but my friend asked me for a prediction before the tournament started. I told him that I would make Eastern Greene a three-point favorite. I guess I should buy a Powerball ticket.
I would like to share some interesting things from the game. As EGHS varsity assistant coach and fellow Pacers fan Kevin Terrell seriously studies every opponent during warm-ups, I go up to him and chat. We talk a little about the Pacers, but usually he tells me how concerned he is about the impending match-up.
On Saturday, Terrell told me he was not nervous, but he also told me a little secret about the game plan -- they were possibly going to play some zone defense if the situation dictated it.
I have watched Andy Igel's Thunderbirds off an on since the 1998-99 season and never, and I mean never, have I seen them play zone, even a few years when they were struggling to win games.
But Terrell was a man of his word. During the T-Bird comeback in the second half with Yoho and Nathan Cobine both in foul trouble, a 2-3 zone magically appeared on the Eastern Greene defensive end of the court.
"JT had three fouls and we could not afford to take him out of the game," said Igel. "We had to go to a zone."
Sullivan, which at times falls in love with the jump shot and forgets about Smith, made just 1 of 9 3-pointers after intermission and shot 6 of 22 (.273).
The Golden Arrows only managed 15 points in the final 16 minutes as Eastern Greene outscored SHS 32-17 over the final 16:47. Pirtle missed 8 of 9 shots, and all but one of his seven attempts from beyond the arc.
"We had the kids we wanted shooting the ball," Moore told the media after the game. "We had open shots, but they didn't go in.
"That's what happens sometimes. I thought we defended hard all night, rebounded hard all night. We made everything tough on them all night. We had some open shots that we didn't knock down."
My friend from Sullivan, a former high school player and coach, said the zone defense really changed the complexion of the game.
"It turned out to be a great move by coach Igel," he said. "Sure, our players had open looks but some of them were deeper threes than they had been shooting.
"Coach Moore ran some good plays to get some of our scorers open, but the kids just missed shots. We had our chances, but did not make enough plays."
I thought that EGHS defensive stopper Miles Hutchison would try to guard Smith, who finished with 17 points on 7 of 17 shooting, but he did not score a point during the final 10:46.
But Terrell told me that Smith was too strong for Miles and that Cobine would be assigned to him at first. Blake Crowe and Yoho also had a shot at guarding the Indiana State University recruit.
But in the final seconds with Eastern Greene leading 45-44, Hutchison helped off of his man and blocked a shot by Smith. The 6-7 Sullivan center snatched his own miss but was called for traveling with 5.2 seconds to play.
"That's what Miles Hutchison does. He knows his role and he plays it to a T," said Igel. "He came over and made a great block and was able to force Smith into a turnover. That was as big as any play in the game."
That block or Yoho's free throws less than a second later really did not decide the outcome. That came at the end of the first half.
The Arrows had all the momentum and went ahead 27-15 after a basket by Smith in the post with 107 seconds left in the second quarter
Sullivan, who only had six turnovers, had three in a short span. A steal by Hutchison led to an easy deuce by Yoho, cutting the lead to 27-19.
Yoho hit a free throw and then Brough made his second trey of the quarter as the Sullivan cushion had evaporated in half as Eastern Greene trailed just 29-23 at intermission.
"They pressed us and we made a couple turnovers in a row, gave them a little momentum," Moore said "Just a two-minute stretch there, they pressed and we had people open up the court and didn't find them, made a few turnovers. It kind of gave them a little momentum going into the second half."
Another key element to the end of the half was that Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled with five seconds left in the half.
Instead of a possible eight-point cushion, EG trailed by just two possessions.
As my friend and I always say, it you are up eight or 10, you can withstand a run from the other team, which invariable happens in roundball.
The most ironic thing is that if Sullivan had stayed in Class 3A they would have likely cruised to its third consecutive sectional title, as none of those teams were the caliber of Eastern Greene.
As it is, Sullivan finished a great season at 21-3 while Eastern Greene will now take its 23-1 record and 23-game winning streak to the Southridge Regional to meet Forest Park at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
"This was just a great effort by a bunch of kids that refused to lose. I love the way they approach every practice and every game. They do not get upset when things are not going well or too high when things are going good," said Igel.
"They just keep working hard and try to execute what we want them to do. This is a very special group."
B.J. Hargis is the sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or at email@example.com .
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