GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central was going to enjoy this one.
After snatching defeat from the jaws of victory many times during a six-game losing streak, the Cougars were the definition of clutch during the fourth quarter of their 56-44 win over visiting county foe Eastern Hancock Saturday night, converting 20-of-21 free throws to claim their first victory over an in-state school this season.
With his team celebrating to the tune of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in the locker room, G-C coach Josh Johnson recounted how the Cougars (2-13) earned their first victory since topping Fox Creek Christian (Ky.) 71-57 on Jan. 3.
“It was great. I’m so happy for the kids more than anything right now,” the fifth-year coach said. “Between the third and fourth quarters, I said, ‘Guys you’ve been in more of these than probably anybody in the state, these tight games. We’ve had that practice.’”
Johnson’s team had been 0-9 in game decided by 12 points or less.
“Our schedule has prepared us. I thought our guys prevailed and did an excellent job of keeping their composure and just taking care of the little things. We knocked down our free throws; we didn’t have that many turnovers. I thought we did an outstanding job,” Johnson said. “And, overall, did we need it? Yeah. We really did. It was important for us to get it. I think it’s something we’ve been waiting on. I think we can springboard from it. We have two away games next weekend, and we can go get ‘em. They got to taste it.”
The Cougars held a slim 2-point advantage at 33-31 entering the final frame. It was about that time the Royals (9-3), winners of eight in a row, lost their cool — which played a major role in them losing a game for the first time since Dec. 20.
EH guard Isaiah McCormick, who finished with a game-best 19 points, sank a pair of free throws to begin the fourth quarter.
From there on out, it all unraveled for the visitors.
After G-C’s Griffin Lowe converted a 2-pointer and drew a foul, Royal forward Derrik Noel was called for a technical foul. Lowe sank the and-1 freebie, then both technical foul shots.
Soon after, with the hosts leading 40-33, EH coach Aaron Spaulding was called for a technical foul.
The Cougars’ Tate Hall hit both free throws, pushing the lead to 42-33 with five minutes and 12 seconds left in the game. The Royals would cut the lead to eight multiple times in the closing minutes, but could get no closer.
“When things don’t go our way, we’ve got to do a better job of keeping our composure — that’s me included,” said Spaulding, whose squad faced a 7-2 foul deficit entering the fourth quarter. “We had a great game, then some circumstances happened and it kind of took us out of it. We’ve got to do a better job of keeping our composure when things don’t go the way we want them to.”
EH was called for 25 fouls; G-C had 11. But, the Royals were also outrebounded 28-20 and struggled shooting the ball, making 15-of-52 (29 percent) shots, including 5-of-23 (22 percent) from beyond the arc.
“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well and they did a nice job of keeping us off the offensive boards,” Spaulding said. “We didn’t get the offensive rebound points that we need to get in order to get what we need offensively.”
The Royals were hot at the outset, jumping out to a 14-8 lead midway through the first quarter behind five points from McCormick and four from Noel.
The Cougars rallied, and the rest of the half — as well as the third quarter — was a back-and-forth affair that featured eight lead changes.
In the end, G-C’s free-throwing shooting was the difference. The Cougars made 26 of their 36 freebies, which allowed them to survive making just two field goals from the 1:38 mark of the third quarter until the end of the game.
“That was great,” Johnson said of his team’s free-throw shooting. “We knocked ‘em in down the stretch, and that’s something that’s haunted us a couple times earlier in the year.”
The 44 points allowed was a season-low for the Cougars. Johnson said G-C’s defense has improved lately despite the lack of victories.
“I think we’ve done a really good job recently,” he said. “We’ve been keeping people in front of us and it’s been an all-around better team effort.”
The Cougars (0-4 Hoosier Heritage Conference) have two winnable road games this weekend, with Delta (7-7, 0-4 HHC) and Greenwood (3-10) coming up on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“The thing I really like was when something went wrong on one end, in the past we let something go wrong on the other end. And that did not happen tonight. We didn’t let things snowball on us,” Johnson said. “We’ve been in those games, where a lot of other teams might not ever be in those games. It was great, especially off the losing streak. Our kids have played their butts off every game. I’m so happy for them to get a win.”
All is not lost for EH, which turned in the school’s second-longest winning streak since the 1993-94 season.
“This team does a nice job finding ways to win. Sometimes it’s really guarding people effectively, sometimes it’s shooting the ball well, sometimes it’s hitting the glass,” Spaulding said. “We’ve won different ways. Right now, we’re in a dog fight for the conference. We’ve got to take this as a learning experience.”
The Royals are tied with Morristown atop the Mid-Hoosier Conference standings with a 4-1 mark. Spaulding’s crew hosts Indian Creek (5-9, 2-2 MHC) Wednesday before traveling to Tri (0-12) Friday.
“We’ve got some real good games coming up,” Spaulding said. “Indian Creek’s record is deceiving; they’ve played a tough schedule. It’s a team that plays extremely hard. We’re going to have to play very well to get ourselves a good chance to win. This has got to be the type of game we use to get better.”
Notes: Greenfield-Central beat Fox Creek in its second game of the Bob Wettig Memorial Tournament in Richmond. … Knightstown beat Eastern Hancock 50-31 on Dec. 20. … EH’s 2010-11 team won 11 in a row. … Hall led G-C with 15 points, adding five rebounds and three assists. … Cole Oleksy had 12 points for the Cougars. … G-C won the JV game 33-20. The Cougars’ Gage Mann led all scorers with eight points.
Greenfield-Central 56, Eastern Hancock 44
EH — McCormick 5-12 5-6 19, Noel 6-15, 0-0 12, Henderson 1-4 2-2 4, Davidson 1-5 2-2 4, Hancock 1-5 0-0 4, Splater 1-3 0-0 2, Fout 0-5 0-2 0, Barton 0-2 0-0 0, Wallen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals — 15-52 9-12 44.
GC — Hall 5-14 5-10 15, Pribble 2-3 0-0 4, Oleksy 4-5 4-6 12, Bean 1-5 6-6 8, Batton 1-3 5-8 7, Robertson 1-1 0-1 2, Lowe 2-4 4-5 8, Stump 0-0 0-0 0, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 15-30 26-36 56.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
EH (9-3) 15 7 9 13 — 44
GC (2-13) 13 8 12 23 — 56
Three-pt. field goals: EH 5-23 (McCormick 4-9, Noel 0-2, Henderson 0-1, Davidson 0-2, Hancock 1-4, Fout 0-5, Wallen 0-1), GC 0-2 (Hall 0-2).
Rebounds: EH 20 (McCormick 3, Noel 2, Henderson 2, Splater 6, Fout 3, Barton 3, Wallen 1), GC 28 (Hall 5, Pribble 2, Oleksy 4, Bean 4, Batton 8, Lowe 4, Stump 1). Assists: EH 4 (Noel 1, Henderson 2, Wallen 1), GC 6 (Hall 3, Bean 1, Batton 1, Robertson 1). Steals: EH 6 (McCormick 2, Noel 2, Splater 2), GC 1 (Hall 1). Blocks: EH 3 (McCormick 1, Splater 1, Barton 1), GC 2 (Oleksy 2). Total fouls: EH 25, GC 11. Fouled out: Splater (EH). Technical fouls: Noel, Coach Spaulding (EH). Turnovers: EH 4, GC 12.
Greenfield-Central 33, Eastern Hancock 20
GC — Jackson 5, Mann 8, Robertson 4, Hert 2, Diehr 6, Ferrell 2, Jameson 6.
EH — Allen 6, Brumfield 2, Spegal 3, Dickey 3, Lacy 2, Beyers 2, Wallace 2.