Senior staff writer
Southport basketball coach Kyle Simpson knew it would not be easy to replace graduated point guard Malik Bennett, who averaged 18 points and 3.6 assists last year for the 23-3 Cardinals.
“We’re trying to find three guys to replace one,” Simpson said. “I told the guys last summer if you think you’re the guy who can replace Malik Bennett, you might as well forget about it. This is Joey (Brunk) and Paul’s (Scruggs) team. I don’t need three 17-point scorers. What I need is a guy who can come in, take care of the basketball and hit open shots when the opportunity presents itself.”
Simpson used junior Jamie Burnett at the point in the opener against Jeffersonville, classmate Blake Evans against Merrillville and freshman Harold Bennett, who is coming off a concussion, against Ben Davis Saturday.
Collectively the trio of point guards didn’t score, grabbed only one rebound and committed six turnovers Saturday at Ben Davis.
Southport’s one-two punch of 6-10 Brunk and 6-3 Scruggs combined for 42 points and 23 rebounds against the Giants. Add in Luke Johnston’s three timely treys and a solid second half from 6-3 senior Eli Walton, and Southport rebounded from its first loss Nov. 28 to defeat Ben Davis 58-52.
Southport fell to visiting Merrillville 53-52 in Southport Fieldhouse and dropped from No. 1 to No. 7 in the state coaches poll.
“There wasn’t any pressure to bounce back; we left that at home last week,” Scruggs said. “We decided to step up each aspect of our game and came out with the win.”
Simpson said the Cardinals worked last week to improve their inside passes to Brunk because that was a weakness against Merrillville.
“Joey was very assertive (against Ben Davis),” Simpson said. “We spent a lot of time on our guard-post work. Against Merrillville there were opportunities that we missed him because we were afraid we would turn the ball over.
“Tonight (Ben Davis) we wanted to get the ball to Joey; our spacing wasn’t too good,” Simpson said. “We don’t want him to anchor himself underneath. We’re trying to get him to move around on the floor more so he’s harder to guard.”
Brunk and Scruggs were assertive early against Ben Davis. Scruggs scored four times and Brunk twice off offensive rebounds as the Cardinals opened a 19-8 first-quarter lead. Southport went cold in the second quarter, hitting 4-of-13 shots and quit controlling the offensive board as the Giants shot to a 32-28 halftime lead.
Southport regained control of the game when Scruggs went coast to coast for a layup and a 47-41 lead with six minutes left in the game. Johnson’s third trey and another put-back by Scruggs pushed the lead to 56-45.
“I like the idea of a one-two punch,” Scruggs said of teaming with Brunk inside and out. “He can help me out there, and I can help him. We’re playing as a team – Luke (Johnston) hitting 3s, Eli (Walton) stepping up on defense, and we’re taking care of the ball.”
Southport connected on only 22-of-52 shots but outrebounded the Giants 31-24.
Hardwood notes: Marcus Burk scored 30 points Saturday to lead Franklin Central to a 55-54 triumph over Warren Central … Center Grove opened its new season with back-to-back wins against New Palestine 60-48 and Bloomington North 67-56 … Beech Grove downed Speedway 74-50 as three Hornets scored in double figures: Dylan Allen 17 points, Chase Andries 15, and David Corbin 11.
Girls basketball: The Marion County girls tourney began Tuesday at eight sites with Roncalli at Brebeuf, Lutheran at Southport, Beech Grove at Ben Davis and Franklin Central at Perry Meridian (results too late for deadline).
If Beech Grove or Franklin Central wins, those teams would be hosts Thursday for quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Franklin Central is the host Saturday of semifinals at 10 a.m. and noon and the title game at 7 p.m.
No. 5 4A Roncalli (6-1) and 4A No. 15 Ben Davis are in the upper bracket, while No. 4 Lawrence North (7-1), No. 6 Pike (7-1) and No. 16 North Central are in the lower bracket.