GREENFIELD — The opening-night opponent couldn’t have been better for Greenfield-Central.
Quick, experienced and annoying defensively, Beech Grove presented a real test for the Cougars on Tuesday night. For a team in search of a new identity with just one returning starter, Greenfield-Central found out what it can do well and what areas need further attention.
The Cougars trailed by just two at halftime — thanks to a second-quarter surge — but sputtered in the third quarter and were outscored 17-9 en route to the 60-48 loss.
Junior Will O’Connor, who led the team with a career-high 27 points and five rebounds, hit a 3-pointer to pull Greenfield-Central with nine, 43-34, with 5:34 to play in the game but it would not be enough. Beech Grove continued to attack and force the home team into costly turnovers.
The Hornets finished just above .500 at 13-10 last year but return their top three leading scorers this season.
“All week we worked on trying to get open from our man and trying to create those passing angles,” O’Connor said, who scored 21 points in the second half. “In the third quarter we stopped doing that.
“We are going to keep working and getting better.”
Beech Grove (1-0) started the game on a 12-3 run and used two 3-pointers from senior Chase Andries to force a Greenfield-Central (0-1) timeout with 1:35 to play in the first quarter. O’Connor drained the team’s first three of the season and missed another open look from the left corner.
The Hornets would use a basket in the paint from 6-foot-5 senior De’Jon James and the Cougars would counter with a Drey Jameson three to take a 14-6 deficit into the second quarter.
A 14-8 run, sparked by hustle plays from junior guard Matt Turner, put Greenfield-Central down 22-20 at the half. Turner missed both of his three attempts in the second quarter but got the rebound on each and kept the play alive to help the Cougars grind back in the game.
Jameson led the team with six points at the break, while O’Connor added five. Jameson would finish the game with eight points and returns as the lone starter from last season’s team.
Greenfield-Central shot 2 of 7 in the first quarter and 5-for-9 in the second. Beech Grove was 6 of 7 from the field in the first and 4-for-8 in the second.
Last season, the Cougars beat the Hornets 56-43 on the road. O’Connor had eight points for Greenfield-Central.
Andries led the Hornets with 10 points at halftime on Tuesday and scored a team-high 26 in the win.
O’Connor also returns as the team’s leading scorer, averaging 5.0 points per game last season for the 20-5 Cougars, who graduated a deep senior class.
“Since they were pressuring us so much and we were spacing it out, the middle was wide open,” O’Connor said, who finished 7-for-10 from the field. “I needed to get in the paint, and tonight I was hitting me free throws.”
So did the team. The Cougars finished 13 of 15 from the charity stripe on Tuesday.
Greenfield-Central looks to bounce back Dec. 2 at home against Indianapolis Marshall.