CHARLOTTESVILLE — The Royals are riding high and rolling along.
Winners of six in a row following a 65-51 dispatching of Waldron Friday, Eastern Hancock is on its longest winning streak since the 2010-11 unit won 11 in a row.
But, with two-time defending sectional champion and current 2A No. 11 Union County coming to Charlottesville tonight, EH coach Aaron Spaulding didn’t try to hide the importance of his group’s game against the 10-1 Patriots.
“It’s the best team we’ve played to date,” Spaulding said.
Friday night, the Royals (7-2, 3-1 Mid-Hoosier Conference) outscored the visiting Mohawks 43-16 in the first and third quarters. In the third frame, junior guard Cole Fout connected on a trio of 3-pointers and junior forward Derrik Noel scored eight of his career-high 22 points as the blue-and-white created separation after a 30-all halftime deadlock.
After scoring in the 60s once during an injury-marred 6-15 campaign last winter, a healthy Royal outfit — at least until Friday night — has now cracked the 60-point barrier in five of its nine games. Entering the contest, seven players were averaging at least five points per game.
“Right now, the key for our team is it comes from a lot of different places,” Spaulding said. “… On a given night, it can be a lot of different kids. It’s kind of a matter of finding who’s going well that night.”
Against Waldron (3-6, 1-3 MHC), it was Noel who had the hot hand throughout, making 8-of-15 attempts from the field and 4-of-6 from the line to go along with eight boards.
“Derrik’s been pretty consistent,” said Spaulding of Noel, who was averaging 9.9 points per game coming into Friday. “He did a nice job, especially in the second half.
EH led 21-15 after a quarter, and went up 24-17 on Dustin Davidson’s triple early in the second quarter before the Mohawks stormed back with a 9-0 run. Offense was a struggle for the Royals in the second frame, as they went six minutes without a made shot at one point.
The hosts rebounded quickly in the second half, with Isaiah McCormick and Fout connecting from beyond the arc to begin the third quarter. The hot shooting continued, and Eastern Hancock led 52-41 after three quarters. A bucket from Noel and a triple from Caleb Wallen gave the Royals their largest lead at 57-41 with just under six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we played three pretty good quarters of basketball tonight,” Spaulding said, nothing his squad had just one second-half turnover. “In the second quarter, we played poorly. I challenged them at halftime and they did a great job of playing with energy.”
Reserve big man Tom Barton spearheaded that shot of vigor to begin the second half, taking over for an injured Logan Splater and doing an admirable job on Kyle Garner, the Mohawks talented senior forward.
Garner finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, but sank just one shot from inside the arc in the second half with Barton holding his ground around the paint.
“(Garner) was a tough guard. He could step out and shoot it or he could score in the post. Sometimes we were trying to front him; sometimes we played him from behind,” Spaulding said. “In the second half, he didn’t hurt us nearly as bad. The last 12 minutes of the game he didn’t really hurt us.”
Waldron’s offense ran dry in the second half, connecting on just three made field goals from the middle of the third quarter to around the 2-minute mark of the final stanza. Barton’s dogged defense on Garner was central to the Mohawk drought.
“Tom stepped in and did a nice job of filling in,” Spaulding said.
In Union County, EH faces a team it’s lost three straight games to, including a 19-point setback last winter. The Patriots are the top-ranked team in Sectional 41 in terms of the Sagarin ratings, and the Royals have already lost to Northeastern and Knightstown, the second and third-ranked teams in Sectional 41.
“Obviously, we’ve got to beat them to win the sectional, so we’ll see where we stand at this point in the season,” Spaulding said of Union County.
Notes: Splater left the game at halftime and went to get X-rays for a foot injury. … Waldron finished 22-1 last season, its lone loss coming in the Sectional 59 final to Baptist Academy. … Eastern Hancock won the JV game 49-20. Cole Allen had 11 points for EH.