GREENFIELD — From the opening tip, it was obvious Tuesday’s contest between Connersville and Greenfield-Central would be a low-scoring affair — just how the Spartans like it.
But the Cougars showed they, too, can play a slow-it-down game.
Boasting the third toughest defense in the state, Connersville entered the game allowing just 35 points per game. It showed early as the Spartans allowed just 15 points in the first half.
And despite trailing by only six with less than a minute to play, Greenfield-Central could not get over the hump and fell 44-37 to its potential sectional foe — one it is quite familiar with from last season.
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Connersville topped the Cougars 50-40 in the second round of the New Castle Sectional last year before eventually claiming the title.
“Coach (Kerry) Brown is one of the best,” Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Lewis said after the game. “His kids are so tough and disciplined. They are never going to beat themselves.
“I am very proud of our kids for being able to be tough, too, and fight their way through it. No matter who (Connersville) is playing, if you go back and look at the last two years, they hold teams in check.”
On Tuesday, though, Greenfield-Central kept the margin much closer and had a chance to pull within three points with 45 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter. A missed 3-pointer after a timeout, however, ended the home team’s momentum as the Cougars simply ran out of gas despite outscoring the visitors 17-15 in the final quarter.
Junior Matt Turner led Greenfield-Central (3-4) with nine points, while junior forward Will O’Connor added eight. Brian Long, another junior, added seven points and five rebounds for the Cougars.
Connersville (7-0), which has received votes in the Associated Press Class 4A poll this season, was led in scoring by senior forward Grant Smith, who also grabbed eight rebounds in the win, with 16 points.
“We just didn’t want to turn the ball over and wanted to play as a team,” said Turner, who scored all of his points in the second half. “We wanted to throw it down low to Brian (Long) and let him do his thing. He went to work down there.”
Connersville worked through Greenfield-Central’s 3-2 zone in the first half and used seven points from senior forward Beau Isaacs to take a 21-15 lead at the break.
With aggressive drives to the basket, the Spartans were able to get in the bonus much sooner than the Cougars.
Senior guard Josh Mundell did his best to keep his team in it, though, scoring four points in the second quarter. Two of those came on a one-handed rebound, which he flipped in for two points while getting fouled.
The Cougars finished the first half 6 of 17 from the field while the Spartans were 6-for-15. However, Connersville scored five more points from the free throw line in a 7-for-12 effort.
The Spartans finished the game 16 of 22 from the charity stripe while the Cougars were 7-for-11.
Greenfield-Central returns to action on Thursday at the South Ripley Tournament. The Cougars will play South Dearborn at 11:30 a.m.