GREENFIELD — Hunched over with her hands on her knees, Madison Wise gazed up at the scoreboard gassed, yet quenched, late in the fourth quarter as a freshly scored scratch on her face flushed red.
On the floor every minute of Greenfield-Central’s semifinal showdown against Class 4A Gary West Side on Friday morning, Wise walked up to the foul line with 22 seconds left in the game and exhaled before burying her final shot.
There was no time to rest.
Pitted against fellow five-star senior prospect and Indiana Miss Basketball candidate Dana Evans, every shot weighed heavy as Wise and the 4A Cougars attempted to chase down a third straight Laker Farm Implement Holiday Tournament finals appearance.
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Behind a team-high 30 points by Wise and a collective effort on defense, the Cougars (8-6) accomplished their goal, defeating Gary West 62-55, while two of the state’s top players left nothing in the tank.
Evans, a Louisville recruit, finished with a game-high 38 points, shooting 15 of 25 from the field, including five 3-pointers, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Cougars from advancing into the tournament title game against East Chicago Central on Friday night.
“They put on a show didn’t they?,” Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker remarked after his Cougars won their fourth straight game. “But our team was better, and I mean no disrespect to Gary West.
“Even though Dana got 38, she had to work for all 38 of them.”
Wise, who is ranked 45th in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz, guarded Evans nearly exclusively throughout their first head-to-head meeting. As Indiana Junior All-Star teammates this past summer, the duo practiced and played together but never on opposite sides.
With the wait finally over, both welcomed the challenge and the accompanying spotlight.
“She’s a great player, and I was really excited to play against her today,” Wise said. “It was definitely a very physically played game and very competitive, but that’s what we like, and know Dana does too.
“I know our whole team was excited to play Gary (West Side) in general.”
Greenfield-Central’s anticipation boiled over from the start as an early 5-3 deficit turned into a double-digit lead before halftime and grew to 17 points in the second half.
Six different players scored at least three points for the Cougars. Senior Katie Helgason, a Ball State signee, had 10 points and five assists.
Yet, it was freshman Hannah Farrell’s first and only two buckets — a pair of threes — that set Greenfield-Central’s course, putting the Cougars ahead 6-5 in the first quarter, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Several more well-timed 3-pointers by sophomore Kate Real complimented Wise’s 16 first-half points, which Evans matched with 17 through the first 16 minutes.
While Real’s shot quieted in the second half, her court vision picked up, finding Wise, Helgason and freshman Kyrstin Bond for crucial open perimeter looks. Real had a team-best nine assists as the Cougars were 13 of 27 from beyond the arc.
Wise’s fourth and final three off a Helgason assist in the third quarter gave Greenfield-Central a 41-26 lead. Consecutive 3-pointers from Helgason late in the third — with her final one falling through just before the buzzer — put the Cougars ahead 54-37.
“The schedule is what won this game,” Laker said. “Us playing the North Centrals, Homesteads and HSEs, that’s what won this game. Our schedule is ranked seventh-best in the state. It’s a process of everything coming together.”
If so, Wise’s mental toughness continues to be the glue for the Cougars this season. Once targeted with physical play to subdue her effectiveness, the 6-foot-1 wing thrived as Gary West’s defense tried to knock her off her game.
She led the team with nine rebounds, battling in the paint and on the defensive glass. And when Evans rose up for a 3-pointer or a smooth mid-range jumper, Wise immediately responded as the duo traded shot for shot.
“She’s quick. Really quick. She had her points but our goal was shut her down the best we could and have help side. Our team did a great job,” Wise said. “I think they only had two scorers.”
Beyond Evans, only freshman Dash Shaw scored for Gary West with 17 points. Evans ran into foul trouble late, picking up her fourth with 4:46 remaining, but she continued to attack for nine more points.
“She got me in some foul trouble, but she did an awesome job, playing a well-rounded game,” said Evans, who is ranked seventh in the nation by ESPN. “It was really competitive. I think me and Maddie, we both played great. It’s always fun playing against great players, and they’re a really great team. She’s a tough player.”
Wise has the scars to prove it.
Bumped and scratched incidentally while posting up and driving, Wise proudly showed off a few more scuffs on her right arm.
“It’s all worth it,” Wise laughed. “What can you do? It’s all about the competition. It comes along with it.”