GREENFIELD — Before the final score flashed onto the scoreboard and with the game still undecided, one thing already had been made certain: This was not the same Greenfield-Central boys basketball program of years past.
Behind an outstanding defensive effort fronted by Dallas Pribble and 20 points from junior Tate Hall, the Cougars pushed Hoosier Heritage Conference powerhouse Pendleton Heights to the brink, but wound up falling short 53-50 in an overtime thriller Friday night at Greenfield-Central.
Despite entering the game a double-digit underdog and having been previously disposed of by the Arabians (12-4, 5-0 HHC) by a total of 69 points in their past two meetings, Greenfield-Central never let Pendleton out of its sight.
The Cougars (6-11, 4-2 HHC) never trailed by more than seven at any point in the game and kept the Arabians under their season average (55 ppg), while playing four extra minutes.
Despite the valiant effort, first-year Greenfield-Central coach Michael Lewis stuck to his season-long mantra of changing the Cougars culture from hoping to win to expecting to win — and not being satisfied with coming close.
“I think they’re disappointed in losing, which I’m glad about,” said Lewis, whose team is now likely out of contention for a league championship. “I’m glad they’re starting to hate to lose. That said, even though I don’t believe in moral victories, I thought we took a step forward tonight.”
That step forward began with Pribble, who was charged with shutting down Arabians’ top scoring threat Sean McDermott.
McDermott entered Friday averaging more than 15 points per game. In the first half, he was kept to 0-of-1 from the floor, as Pribble and his Cougars teammates did everything they could to keep McDermott from touching the ball.
“That’s a kid who hasn’t played a lot,” Lewis said of Pribble. “And we needed him to step up and guard McDermott tonight, and he did a great job of it. Dallas is just a very, very competitive kid. I think because he had that assignment, he played with more confidence on the offensive end. And that was good to see.”
Pribble finished with a season-high eight points and picked up three assists.
The defense on McDermott, though undoubtedly excellent, also might have cost the Cougars in the first half, as the Arabians Kenton Dunham made them pay for all the attention focused on his teammate.
Dunham went 6-of-7 from the field in the first two quarters to lead all scorers with 14 points and to help provide his team with a 27-20 advantage heading in the break.
The Cougars, though, would not go down easily. They opened the second half with a 10-0 run, highlighted by a steal-and-score by point guard Chandler Bean, and didn’t allow the Arabians a single point until the 3:05 mark in the period.
“They have such a tough team to guard, and they are so well coached,” Lewis said. “Our kids did a great job taking away their set pieces and forcing them to make plays.”
From that point, it was a back-and-forth battle, as the lead changed hands four times before it deadlocked at 43.
The Cougars came up with a big stop with a little more than five seconds to go in the game and gave themselves a chance to win. As the buzzer sounded, Greenfield-Central got up a decent look, but the shot was tipped by Pendleton’s Mark Albers.
The Arabians then took control in overtime. They knocked down six free throws to help seal the game, while the Cougars went 1-of-5 in the extra period.
“This game gives us some confidence for sectionals,” said Lewis, whose team could see the Arabians again in the postseason. “The kids are disappointed, but they know now they can compete with those high-caliber of teams.”
Notes: Pendleton Heights pushed its winning streak against the Cougars to 12. The Arabians run began in 2005. … Greenfield-Central is two wins away from equaling their best season since 2011-12. … The Cougars play again tonight at 7:30 at Hancock County rival Eastern Hancock. The Cougars JV team defeated Pendleton Heights 39-22. Will O’Connor led the way with 11 points. Jeremiah Fields and John Davis each had seven.