KNIGHTSTOWN — One hundred years ago, Knightstown successfully defended its home court against Sulpher Springs to christen, the now, Historic Hoosier Gym.
On Wednesday night, the local team prevailed, once again, as host Class 2A Eastern Hancock celebrated the 100th-year anniversary game at Hoosier Gym by defeating Centerville, 83-14.
Eastern Hancock senior Landon O’Neal finished with a game-high 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting and four Royals reached double figures to commemorate the night.
“There were a lot of good passes from my teammates and several drives-and-kicks, which I can’t complain about,” O’Neal said. “I grew up being a big fan of the movie because I like basketball, so it was really fun to play an actual game in here.”
The home court of the fabled Hickory Huskers from the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” a timeless Indiana basketball classic; fans of both the film and the teams occupied every seat inside the gymnasium.
The Royals treated their supporters with a quick 6-0 run to start their season opener, and later feasted with a 31-0 run that secured an IHSAA mercy-rule, running clock for the second half.
Eastern Hancock shot 62 percent from the field in the first half (18 of 29) and immediately went to work on defense and from long range. The Royals (1-0) took advantage of 17 first-half turnovers by Centerville (0-1) and converted 5 of 12 shots from beyond the 3-point arc before halftime.
“Obviously, we did a nice job. They have a young team, so they were dealing with some inexperience, and we’re pretty experienced. I thought we had good energy and played solid,” Royals head coach Aaron Spaulding said. “For the most part, I’m pleased with our performance.”
EH senior Cole Rainbolt buried the first bucket of the night, followed by a pair from junior Jacob Spaulding. Up 6-2, the Royals charged ahead to lead 37-2 late in the second quarter, sparked by a steal and a basket by junior Edric Miller and the game’s first 3-pointer by O’Neal.
O’Neal and Miller both had four steals apiece, while the latter dished out five assists. Miller provided seven points, and Jacob Spaulding had 13, going 4-for-4 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
Junior Silas Spaulding contributed four rebounds and 11 points. Senior Cyrus Burton had 11 points, and Rainbolt added nine more points, only missing one attempt on 4 of 5 shooting.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I know a lot of people don’t get a chance to play in this gym, and it’s one of the best places to play basketball ever in the state of Indiana,” Rainbolt said. “It was a great experience to play with my boys, my team and get a W out of it, too.”
Eastern Hancock shot 69 percent for the game and was 10 of 20 overall from 3-point range.
O’Neal didn’t miss a single shot attempt in the second half, going 7 of 7 with four consecutive 3-pointers to open the second half. He was 5 of 7 from deep. Eastern Hancock talled 19 points in the third quarter behind a flawless 7-for-7 shooting frame.
“I thought we spread the ball around a lot tonight. Got good shots for people. We really talked about at halftime that we wanted to get better, and I really liked in the second half how we penetrated the lane and got the ball outside to our shooters,” Spaulding said. “If we get shots like that, we’re going to be hard to beat.”
In contrast, Knightstown’s inaugural Hoosier Gym victory on Nov. 25, 1921, entailed a combined team score of no more than 50 points.
The Royals reached the 50-point mark behind O’Neal’s third 3-pointer to put Eastern Hancock ahead 52-6 in the third quarter.
“It’s obviously a different circumstance, playing here, and it was good for them. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but they got the opportunity to do this in their careers, and it was fun,” Spaulding said.
“(Landon) shot the ball well. When we get the shots that they saw tonight, we’re going to pretty good. We have a lot of guys who can shoot it and a lot of guys who can play.”
Jacob Spaulding’s two free throws with 3 minutes, 1 second left prior to halftime pushed the Royals’ lead to 35 points and their 37-point advantage at halftime, 43-6, initiated a running clock in the second half.
Grant Gray added five points off the bench for the Royals, and all nine EH players that logged minutes scored at least two points or more.
“For ourselves, we have very high expectations, and I feel like the fans have high expectations, too. So, hopefully, we can live up to it,” O’Neal said. “We feel like it’s our time to win (sectional). If we keep working hard and doing what we’re doing, I think we can.”
The Royals posted a 19-6 record in 2020-21 and lost in the Sectional 41 finals to rival Shenandoah, 61-38, last March. They are looking to chase down the program’s first sectional title since 2008.
“Coach has us going with the mindset of going 1-0 each game. So, tonight, it was about beating Centerville. Next game is going to be beat New Pal. It’s going to be a tough opponent, and we did well preparing for tonight. It’s just on to the next,” Rainbolt said.
The Royals host 4A New Palestine on Friday, Dec. 3 before opening Mid-Eastern Conference play at Class A Wes-Del on Saturday, Dec. 4.
Eastern Hancock 83, Centerville 14
Eastern Hancock (1-0): Silas Spaulding 5 0-0 11, Jacob Spaulding 4 4-4 13, Cole Rainbolt 4 0-0 9, Edric Miller 3 0-0 7, Landon O’Neal 9 0-0 23, Grant Gray 2 0-0 5, Cyrus Burton 5 1-1 11, Zach Arnold 1 0-0 2, Jayden Stine 1 0-0 2. Totals: 34 5-5 83.
Centerville (0-1): Gavin Robinson 0 0-0 0, Peyton Heaston 2 2-4 6, Eric Parker 0 0-0 0, Gabe McDaniel 0 0-0 0, Carter Heaston 1 0-0 2, Grady Blake 1 0-0 2, Chase Clark 0 0-0 0, Daniel Williams 0 0-0 0, Trevor Thornburg 2 0-1 4. Totals: 6 2-5 14.
3-point goals: Eastern Hancock 10 (O’Neal 5, S. Spaulding 1, J. Spaulding 1, Rainbolt 1, Miller 1, Gray 1); Centerville 0.