BEECH GROVE — The deficit grew quickly in the first half, but the Greenfield-Central Cougars’ resolve never waned.
Down by 18 points midway through the second quarter, the Class 4A Cougars refused to go quietly against host Beech Grove in their season opener, chipping away and nearly charging back before losing 58-48.
“That’s what we talked about at every break and every chance, we talked about what we could fix right away and reminded them that there was a lot of time left,” Greenfield-Central head coach Lukas Hawroth said. “We were going to make a run at it, and they did. I give them a lot of credit for that.”
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The key for the Cougars was patience and defense, and both helped as the host 3A Hornets built a 23-5 advantage before letting it slip to four points twice in the second half.
Greenfield-Central senior Matt Turner led the near comeback with a game-high 20 points on 7 of 15 shooting and a perfect 4-for-4 night at the free-throw line.
Turner had nine points in the second quarter and sliced the Hornets’ lead to 13 points with 1 minute, 21 seconds left in the first half.
“Obviously, we’re going to run things through Will (O’Connor). I think everybody knows that, and Beech Grove did a great job of taking him away,” Haworth said. “That’s where you have to have players step up, and Matt (Turner) did that tonight.”
The Hornets responded in similar fashion as the Cougars defense held Beech Grove’s starting five to 10 points in the first half. However, their bench play was stout behind junior Griffin Wade.
The 6-foot guard scored 16 points in the first half and shot 5 of 10 from 3-point range in the game. He finished with 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting.
“That’s the one thing we were unsure of. We knew they were a team that could get to the bucket, but we weren’t really sure what was coming up off of JV,” Haworth said. “We were going to stop the three guys we knew they had coming back, and I thought we did a phenomenal job of keeping them out of the paint. Give them credit, though, (Wade) made open shots.”
So did Cougars’ sophomore Logan Graddy, who capped the first half with a walk-off 3-pointer at the buzzer from just past half court. His long-range dagger cut the Hornets’ lead to 32-19.
In the third quarter, the Cougars went on a 10-0 run to pull within four points, 38-34, behind a layup by 6-8 center Brian Long.
The Cougars’ big man had 13 points with 10 in the second half. Long again brought the Cougars within four points with a heads up putback bucket late in the fourth quarter and 1:55 remaining.
“He did a great job of continuing to be aggressive,” Haworth said of Long. “He didn’t get frustrated. He just kept fighting and attacking.”
O’Connor, a 6-6 guard, added nine points in the second half after going scoreless through the first 16 minutes. He and Turner both posted a team-high five rebounds apiece.
The rally wasn’t enough, though, as the Hornets went wire-to-wire to win.
Kenny Washington, a senior, finished with 12 points and six rebounds for Beech Grove. Jayln Curry had eight points, and Jomar Seals hauled in a team-high six rebounds.
“We could be happier, if it was a win, but we spent a lot of time focusing on the defensive end of the ball. And we just held a very athletic team under 60 points,” Haworth assessed afterward. “I couldn’t be prouder. This is a marathon, not a sprint. If anyone starts to hang their head after Game 1, it’s going to be a long four months. I know they’ll be ready to go back to work tomorrow.”
The Cougars are off until Dec. 2, when they return to the court and host 4A Perry Meridian in their home opener.