Senior staff writer
Center Grove found its basketball identity Friday during its season opener while opponent Southport continues searching.
As 6-9 sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis goes, so go coach Zach Hahn’s Trojans.
The second-year varsity player’s emergence in the second half was the spark that Center Grove needed to dispose of the Cardinals 60-51.
Jackson-Davis stepped up after a timid first half with Southport leading 25-19. He electrified the home crowd with a baseline jam for a 33-31 lead that the Trojans never relinquished. Fifteen seconds later he blocked a shot that teammate Nate McLain converted into a fast-break layup. Jackson-Davis later slipped underneath for two points and a free throw to cap an 11-4 run and a 42-35 third-quarter lead.
Jackson-Davis scored only four points in the first half but added 12 points in the Trojans’ go-ahead third quarter en route to a 21-point game.
Southport trimmed CG’s lead to 53-50 on 6-9 Dut Mabok’s follow-up goal. Then sophomore guard Spencer Piercefield hit a 3-pointer with 1:44 left and Jackson-Davis hit two free throws with 56 seconds to go for a 58-50 lead.
“Anybody who watches Center Grove basketball for three years is going to know that we are going to live or die with Trayce Jackson-Davis,” Hahn said. “When he plays to his ability and when he’s focused and locked in, we’re going to be a pretty tough team to beat with skill guys around him. He brought energy in the second half for our guys”
Southport controlled the first half, particularly the second quarter when 6-3 sharpshooter Eddie Schott connected on 4-of-4 trifectas. The Cardinals hit 8-of-19 shots in the first half. Senior guard Blake Evans scored all his six points in the second quarter. Sophomore guard Harold Bennett had 10 points and Mabok had eight points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots.
The Cardinals biggest lead was six points at halftime but trailed 48-37 early in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense fell down,” Southport coach Kyle Simpson said. “We started stagnant but we kept fighting. We kept fighting; we were right there for a while at the end. At one time, we had four sophomores on the court so we’re still trying to find our identity.”
Southport showed quickness in the backcourt with Bennett, Evans, Rashawn Hawkins and Brian Miller. The Cardinals also were tentative in their backcourt play and at times did not move the ball quickly on offense. Injured freshman point guard Brevin Jefferson did not play.
The Cardinals committed 18 turnovers; Center Grove 11.
Southport could not contain Jackson-Davis, who moved in from the right wing to the inside to score in the second half.
Center Grove hit 20-of-58 shots, while Southport hit 16-of-43 shots. Southport won the battle of the boards 28-24.
“Our shots didn’t go down in the first half,” Hahn said. “We made some adjustments at halftime, and we were able to respond early in the second half with a run of our own. We responded early in the second half with a run of our own. I really liked the way our guys communicated with each other.
“We have six or seven guys back from varsity last year so I’m looking forward to late December and January when we get more experience. I really like this team; we have a lot of pieces to be successful.”
Meanwhile, time may be on Southport’s side as the more inexperienced varsity players gain playing time during the regular season.
Center Grove downed Bloomington North 74-60 Saturday, while Southport fell to 0-5 against Ben Davis 91-61.
Perry Meridian snapped a two-game skid against Greenfield 47-43; Roncalli captured its first conference win over Guerin Catholic 82-54; Beech Grove stands 1-1 in the Indiana Crossroads Conference after defeating Speedway 61-35; and Greenwood fell against Mid-State foe Martinsville 56-54.
Key matchups find Center Grove at No. 17 Pike, Whiteland at Roncalli and Franklin at Greenwood Friday and Manual at Beech Grove and Greenwood Christian at Lutheran Saturday. All games are at 7:30 p.m.