Senior staff writer
Center Grove 6-9 junior standout Trayce Jackson-Davis vowed that the Trojans will return to the 4A Seymour regional next year after being knocked out of the playoffs Saturday night by No. 3 New Albany.
“I wish we could have won it for our seniors,” Jackson-Davis said. “As for next year, I have no doubt in my mind that we will be back.”
Mostly due to a slow start, the Trojans’ hopes of upsetting No. 2 New Albany and heavily favored Mr. Basketball candidate Romeo Langford fell short in the championship game, 69-56.
Langford scored a game-high 39 points, including 15 free throws, while Jackson-Davis scored a team-high 24 points. They were not assigned to guard each other, but they wound up challenging each other at times.
Jackson-Davis soared from the free-throw line for a left-handed jam and sidestepped Langford for a fast-break layup.
The 6-5 Langford, who has added his name to the state’s list of leading career scorers, showed his versatility by hitting a pair of 3-pointers, short-range shots and drives to the basket.
The cold-shooting Trojans connected on only one of their first nine shots and fell behind 16-3 with Jackson-Davis on the bench for two minutes due to disputed foul trouble. For the next 26 minutes the teams played evenly (53-53).
The Trojans trailed 39-28 at the half and used a fourth-quarter full-court press to pull to 60-52 but could get no closer.
“We did the same thing last year, started pressing and created some turnovers,” Center Grove coach Zach Hahn said. “These kids are going to play the full 32 minutes.”
The Trojans will graduate four seniors: starting guard Nate McLain, who scored 15 points against New Albany; forward Joey Klaasen, who scored 10 in the second quarter in the regional opener against Evansville North; and Noah Gillard and Noah Fresher off the bench.
“I’m heartbroken, really heartbroken for these seniors,” Hahn said. “It is never an easy task to put together a team that cares for each other like this team did. The community should be proud of what these guys accomplished; it’s going to be hard to part from these seniors.”
The Trojans expect to return next season with starters Jackson-Davis, Ben Nicoson, Spencer Piercefield and Cameron Petty plus Lucas Doyle, Ben Greller, Caleb Tidd, Justin DeGraaf and Eric Lasley.
The Trojans finished 20-7, their best record in four seasons under Hahn (59-41).
“We battled back and we played hard in the second half,” he said in his postgame assessment. “If you’re not making your open shots and down on the other end they’re going to shoot free throws all night, it’s hard to overcome that against a team like New Albany.”
Hahn was agitated that Jackson-Davis was whistled for two fouls within the first three minutes of the game.
“I’m going to be pretty candid here and say touch fouls on one end and elbows in the back on the other end are two different stories,” Hahn said. “It changed his (Jackson-Davis) aggressiveness on both ends. We didn’t make shots and the early foul trouble caused us to play on our heels a little bit. They tried to take three charges on him in the first quarter and they called one, of course.
The day for Trojans fans began with a caravan from the high school at 8:20 a.m. With students wearing white “Road to the State” T-shirts, they made all the noise they could against New Albany and a standing-room-only crowd.
Center Grove showed its resolve by defeating Evansville North 69-44 in the opener.
The Trojans scored the last six points of the first half for a 30-21 halftime lead.
North did not score for a little more than four minutes as the CG lead went up to 37-21. CG lead 52-28 before North trimmed it to 56-43 with three and one-half minutes left. Center Grove closed on a 13-1 run.
Jackson-Davis led the Trojans with 26 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots; McLain added 14 points, and Klaasen had 10.