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Sleeper teams, surprises, milestones and more from this week in IHSAA boys basketball

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Five things we learned this week in high school basketball:

Five sleeper teams

Believe it not, the sectional draw is next Sunday. Here are five sleeper teams you might not want to see across from yours when the draw is announced:

Hamilton Southeastern: Don’t look now but the Royals (15-6) have reeled off four consecutive wins after taking out Carmel (45-39) and Southport (76-69) over the weekend and seven of eight overall. Seniors Donovan Hamilton (14.1 ppg, 6.9 rebounds) and Nate Orr (11.5 ppg, 5.0 rebounds) and junior Braeden Totton (10.2 ppg, 2.9) form a tough trio. As if Sectional 8 at Noblesville could get any tougher, but HSE has the look of a team you would rather not see.

Anderson: The Indians (17-4) have won four consecutive games and eight of nine with a monster game at Kokomo coming Friday. Junior Damien King is averaging 23.7 points per game. Anderson is led in scoring by three juniors. Greenfield-Central (20-0) and New Palestine (17-4) might be slight favorites in Sectional 9 but Anderson is right in that mix.

Lawrence Central: The Bears (10-8) have won five in a row, including wins over Warren Central, Anderson and North Central in that stretch. Sectional 10 is loaded as usual, and you could argue Lawrence Central is the sixth-best team in the seven-team field. But Phil Washington’s team is playing its best at the right time.

Maconaquah: The Class 3A Braves (13-4) have not won a sectional since going back-to-back-to-back in 1998, ’99 and 2000. Maconaquah is probably not the pick this year either in Class 3A Sectional 23 with sixth-ranked Bellmont (16-3) in the field. The Indians have a team led by juniors, in particular 6-5 Josiah Ball (30.7 ppg), one of the state’s top scorers.

Cardinal Ritter: Ritter’s 8-12 record might not stand out, but the Raiders have won four of five and have played a tougher schedule than most 3A teams. Also: Sectional 28 is not full of powerhouse teams. Purdue Poly (13-4) and Christel House (12-7) might be slightly favored, but Ritter has four players averaging in double figures, led by senior Xavier Highbaugh (14.5 ppg).

Conference races and milestones

Ben Davis’ 60-53 win over Lawrence North put the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference race in flux. Lawrence North, Ben Davis and Lawrence Central are now tied for the lead at 3-1. The Wildcats can clinch a share of the title with a win over Pike on Friday night. Ben Davis and Lawrence Central were scheduled to play Saturday but the game was moved due to the Bears reaching the Class 4A girls regional. Lawrence Central will play at Ben Davis on Feb. 20.

∎ Ritter finished its Indiana Crossroads Conference schedule at 6-1 with a 60-48 win over Triton Central on Friday night. The Tigers (14-5, 3-1) are the only team that can catch Ritter. Triton Central has ICC games this week at Monrovia (Tuesday) and Beech Grove (Friday) with Speedway next week.

∎ Franklin (15-3, 6-0) can wrap up the Mid-State Conference title outright at Plainfield on Friday. A Franklin loss would allow Decatur Central (10-7, 5-1) to earn a share with a win over Perry Meridian on Friday.

∎ The North Central Conference comes down to Anderson (17-4, 7-0) at Kokomo (19-3, 7-0) on Friday night. That one will be fun.

∎ Danville (17-1, 6-0) can wrap up the Sagamore Conference championship with a win at Crawfordsville on Friday night.

New Palestine’s Julius Gizzi scored 34 points and grabbed eight rebounds in New Palestine’s 86-39 win over Connersville on Saturday. Gizzi broke the school’s single season scoring record previously held by brother Maximus. Julius has 628 points as a junior; Maximus scored 611 points as a senior in 2019-20.

∎ Jennings County junior Carter Kent was honored Saturday for reaching 1,000 career points two weeks ago.

∎ Guerin Catholic senior Robert Sorensen scored 15 points in a 63-61 loss to New Palestine to eclipse 1,000 career points.

Surprises of the week

There were a few rather surprising results this week. Among them:

Greenwood 65, Plainfield 58: Greenwood senior Jake Mosemann had 33 points as the Woodmen (6-13 overall, 2-4 Mid-State Conference) upset the Quakers (13-7, 4-2). Greenwood snapped a four-game losing streak to Plainfield and won its third game this season over a Class 4A program.

Pike 62, North Central 56: Is Pike putting it together for a stretch run? The Red Devils are just 6-13 in Jeff Teague’s first season as coach but a win at rival North Central is a good sign. Pike nearly made it a 2-for-2 weekend, falling 70-66 in overtime against a good Mt. Vernon team. Damon Howard had 24 points and seven assists in the win over North Central and T.J. Davis added 16 points.

Heritage Christian 63, FW Blackhawk Christian 53: A nice home victory on Saturday for coach Tre Granger’s team against the Class 2A defending state champions. The Eagles improved to 12-7.

Team of the week

After a 3-3 start, Center Grove (14-4) has been one of the most consistent teams in Class 4A. The Trojans are now riding an eight-game winning streak after wins this week over Zionsville (60-49) and Jeffersonville (71-55).

There are a lot of reasons to like this Center Grove team, including its senior leadership and outside shooting. Joey Schmitz, who went for 21 points on 8-for-8 shooting (4-for-4 from the 3-point line) against Jeffersonville, fits both categories. Schmitz is shooting a staggering 58.3% (60-for-103) from the 3-point line.

Center Grove is shooting 47% from the 3-point line as a team. Coach Zach Hahn expected that but said the improvement on defense has led to wins.

“They are starting to defend at a high level,” he said. “A couple of guys are taking pride in guarding others. That’s what I’ve been most pleased with is our intensity. We’ve been winning 50-50 balls, diving in the floor and getting timeouts. That’s the difference in a one-possession game late and a three or four-possession game late. We weren’t getting those earlier in the year, so they’ve made those adjustments.”

Final thoughts and observations

I don’t pretend to have all the answers but if you have made it this far, some random, quick-hitting thoughts and observations to leave you with:

∎ We don’t give enough credit to the McAnally Center in Greencastle as one of the best high school gyms in the state. I was there Saturday to cover the girls basketball regional games and was reminded what a great place it is for hoops. It opened in 1969 and is currently part of a $32 million renovation that will connect gym to the school. It is named after Jess McAnally, who led Greencastle to the state finals three times and won the 1932 Gimbel Award as a junior, went on to play at Northwestern, but died at age 21 from a bacterial infection.

∎ Sophomore guard Luke Ertel made his return from an injury suffered during football season for Mt. Vernon. That’s a big addition for a Marauders’ team that went 3-0 for the week with wins over Mooresville, Madison and Pike to improve to 13-8.

∎ Is K.J. Windham right? Is defending state champion Ben Davis still the best team in the state? Windham, a Northwestern commit, backed up his words with 29 points in the Giants’ 60-53 win at second-ranked Lawrence North on Friday. Windham is one point from 1,000 for his career.

∎ Noblesville rallied from a 16-point deficit late in the third quarter for a 61-57 win at Brownsburg on Friday night. The Millers were without senior guard Aaron Fine, who came down with a stomach bug on Friday.

∎ Greenfield-Central (20-0) is good position to finish the regular season as the state’s only undefeated team following a 54-50 victory at Avon on Saturday. The Cougars are at Martinsville (Saturday) and host Perry Meridian (Feb. 21) to close the regular season.

∎ There’s such a different feel to tournament basketball. It was fun to experience that at the girls 3A regional game Saturday between Bishop Chatard and Indian Creek. The finality of those games puts everything on a different level of emotion.

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

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