By James Howell Jr. / For Daily Reporter
BEECH GROVE — A teacher. A mentor. A coach. Matt English was all of these things, especially to those around the Beech Grove Hornets basketball program.
English was also a standout basketball player for the Greenfield-Central Cougars from 1988-91.
Unfortunately, in 2018, English passed away due to complications from brain cancer. On Tuesday night, his alma mater visited Beech Grove High School to play on the court named in his honor.
The Hornets posted a 56-45 victory and earned the right to keep the newly-unveiled Matt English traveling trophy in Beech Grove until next year’s meeting.
First game jitters were evident for both teams early on. Neither team looked to push the pace, and the slow methodical play led to few shot attempts in the first quarter.
As the quarter closed, the Cougars felt prepared to begin pushing a faster pace on the Hornets by installing a three-quarter court press. The press proved effective in gaining the Cougars enough turnovers to put themselves ahead.
“For the first game of the season, and having a kid playing his first-ever high school game out there starting, I think we looked great early,” Cougars head coach Luke Meredith said. “We had great pressure and came out with the hustle and hard play that we always preach, and it got us ahead early.”
The Cougars used the momentum of taking a lead into the second quarter and built on it. Junior Dylan Moses scored seven points in the first five minutes of the second quarter to put the Cougars ahead 18-11.
Over the course of the final three minutes however, the momentum swung in a big way towards the Hornets. The hosts closed the first half on a 13-0 run thanks to multiple turnovers forced and a few unforced by the Cougars.
The momentum stayed with the Hornets for the length of the second half with efficient shooting due to the low-post presence of big man Anthony Ball and the shifty play of Damon Thompkins.
The duo combined for 20 points in the paint for the game.
Dylan Moles was able to keep the Cougars within striking distance with a trio of crucial 3-pointers late, but the Cougars continued to answer.
With 4:22 remaining in the game, the Hornets’ lead stretched to the largest of the night at 14.
The high-tempo and pressure forced the Cougars into seven fourth-quarter turnovers, nearly matching the eight turnovers of the first three quarters combined.
Meredith points to the inefficiency shooting the ball as the stand-out factor in the final result.
“We can’t shoot 7 of 25 from three and expect to compete with a team this good,” Meredith said. “Beech Grove is a great team that wins sectionals every year and has great depth of size. They were also fired up for the English trophy tonight. We had good looks, we just have to capitalize on them.”
Overall from the court, the Cougars were just 16 of 41 shooting the ball against the Hornets 23 of 43 shooting.
Moles made half of the Cougars field goals. He finished the night with 24 points on 8 of 16 shooting.
The hustle and hard work from the Cougars came with strong ball movement all night. Seven players finished with at least one assist.
Freshman Braylon Mullins made his anticipated debut for the Cougars. With numerous colleges already keeping their eye on Mullins, Cougars faithful were prepared for a spectacle.
“Braylon is a special player,” Meredith said. “At times he will make us forget he is a freshman. We can’t lose sight though that he is a freshman. He is going to take some lumps this season like he did tonight.”
Mullins finished the first high school game of his career with five points and a team-high five rebounds.
Ball’s presence in the post provided the Hornets with 14 points and six rebounds to lead the way.
The Cougars have 10 days to regroup before their home opener on Dec. 3 against Hagerstown.
Beech Grove 56, Greenfield-Central 45
Greenfield-Central (0-1): Dylan Moles 8 4-4 24, Braylon Mullins 2 0-1 5, Rayshawn Street 0 0-0 0, Joey Roland 3 2-2 8, Adam Lester 1 0-0 3, Rune Carpenter-Jones 1 0-0 2, Tyler Kerkhof 1 0-0 3. Totals: 16 6-7 45.
Beech Grove (1-0): Cam Brown 2 2-2 7, Jeremiah Alexander 3 1-2 7, Damon Thompkins 5 0-0 11, Anthony Ball 6 2-5 14, Rylan Horen 3 0-1 7, Damonte Henderson 2 0-0 4, Jaleel Edwards 0-1 0-0 0, Skylar Thacker 1 0-0 3, Adrian Holland 1 0-0 3. Totals: 23 5-10 56.
3-point goals: Greenfield-Central 7 (Moles 4, Mullins 1, Lester 1, Kerkhof 1); Beech Grove 5 (Brown 1, Thompkins 1, Horen 1, Thacker 1, Holland 1)