COLUMBIA CITY — Sometimes winning championships are just as simple as winning the game itself.
“Keep it simple,” Columbia City head coach Chris Benedict said to his team before the game. “Everyone wants to talk about ‘how do you win a conference championship?’
“Win your conference games. It sounds simple but that’s it.”
The Eagles (4-1) began their pursuit of an Northeast Hoosier Conference title Friday night hosting East Noble (2-3) at Donald S. Weeks Gymnaisum.
A young Columbia City team with raw talent set out for its first conference title since 2006.
With the help of a game-high 31 points by sophomore Drew Benedict the Eagles opened in the right direction beating the Knights 61-47.
“It was a really good fourth quarter for us to just break away and salitify a good win here at home,” coach Benedict noted. “We got some key defensive stops at the right times and won a very physical game.”
Columbia City also got the shots to fall at the right time as well. Shooting 58 percent for the game from the field, the Eagles went 8-for-12 in the second half after holding a 28-24 lead at halftime.
“The big thing is making sure we get good looks at the basket,” coach Benedict commented. “Sometimes our guys try to make them too quick. Tonight, it seemed like we worked the ball through the offense and got those shots with a step more.”
East Noble’s junior T.J. Blair gave the Eagles troubles with his length and deep shooting range.
One of the six-foot-five-inch Knight’s three-pointers in the first quarter gave East Noble the first of only two leads it saw all night.
Columbia City’s lack of size for most of the first half allowed Blair to capitalize on mismatches scoring 28 points for the game. Senior Tyler Mosher went down with an injury in the first quarter while Ben Murphy sat with foul trouble.
“T-Mo just gives us that presence inside,” coach Benedict said. “Just having him on the floor is important. Six-(foot)-six-(inches), 205 (pounds) every day. You’re not changing that.”
However, after going down 8-7 with 2:13 left in the first quarter, Columbia City never trailed again.
Junior Drew Burnsworth helped the Eagles along hitting back-to-back three-pointers in the first quarter.
Drew Benedict gave the Eagles a 16-11 at the end of the first period on a three-pointer off a ball screen with four seconds left.
The leading scorer for Columbia City in each of its four wins this season, Drew Benedict went 6-for-11 from behind the three-point line.
Four of those three-pointers came in the second half where Drew Benedict scored 18 points.
In a low-scoring third quarter, Drew Benedict and fellow sophomore Derek Hinen kept Columbia City’s 37-31 lead intact.
Hinen contributed in six of the Eagles nine points for the quarter scoring on two drives to the basket and adding an assist to Mosher inside.
“I was really pleased with Derek in the third quarter,” coach Benedict stated. “He attacked the basket strong and got us some penetration and easy baskets to start the third quarter.
“If he’s not scoring he’s getting the ball to someone who is scoring.”
Hinen finished scoring 13 points to go along with five assists.
Meanwhile, Drew Benedict did the brunt of his work in the fourth quarter scoring 15 of Columbia City’s 24 points in the final period.
He hit three buckets from the perimeter to go along with an 11-for-12 night from the free throw line.
With East Noble within six points at 46-40, Drew Benedict hit the first of two final three-pointers in the corner just in front of the Eagles student section.
“The one in the corner was good off Derek’s penetration,” coach Benedict said. “He’s shot so much and spent so much time on it that sometimes if he feels like he’s got his feet ready you got to let him.”
As a team, Columbia City put in nine three-point baskets shooting 60 percent from the perimeter.
The solid numbers on offense were coupled with a 21-19 rebound advantage despite being without two post players for much of the first half.