BUTLER – There’s something about conference tournaments that brings out the best in teams no matter what their records.
That was the case Tuesday night at Eastside High School as the Blazers and Churubusco met in the opening round of the 2023 NECC Tournament. The two teams battled for three and a half quarters before Eastside was able to find another gear and emerge with a 47-39 win.
Churubusco coach Shannon Beard liked the energy his team brought to the floor.
“They’re getting better,” Beard said. “They’re learning how hard it is to win in Indiana.”
Junior Caden Ummel is becoming the Eagles’ go-to guy, Beard said. He had eight of the Eagles’ 39 points after dropping 33 against Fremont Jan. 6.
Eastside coach Ed Bentley, meanwhile, said his young team is still learning to value each possession. The Blazers had 12 turnovers in the first half and just a few in the second.
“We went in at halftime, talked about some things, and came out poised in the second half. We ran our stuff a lot better,” Bentley said.
This one got off to a sluggish start: Neither team found the scoreboard until just over three minutes were left in the opening stanza.
It was Eastside going on a 7-0 run, but Churubusco responded with an 8-3 spurt of its own and trailed just 10-8 at the first stop.
The Eagles, despite their 1-7 record entering the tournament, played some scrappy, hustling, tough basketball in the first half and led 18-17 at intermission.
Eastside surged out to a 27-22 advantage early in the third quarter, but the Eagles again kept in range, trailing just 29-28 at the final stop.
The Eagles took the lead at 31-29 on an old-fashioned 3-point play by Ummel in the opening minute of the fourth. But Eastside responded with a 9-0 run for a 38-31 lead midway through the period.
The Eagles scored the next five points to cut the Blazer lead to 38-34, but Eastside weathered the brief Busco surge and closed the contest with a 9-3 run to hold off the Eagles.
“It was a good team effort out there tonight,” Beard added.
In addition to Ummel, Brayden Bianski also had eight points apiece.
Beard also liked Bianski’s play Tuesday night, as well as Mason Jacks and Ethan Hartsock.
“Mason’s playing unreal defense for us,” Beard said.
The Blazers moved on to a Wednesday night second-round contest against Lakeland, an 83-28 winner over Hamilton in another first-round contest at Hamilton Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for approximately 7:30 p.m., after the girls second-round game between the Lakers and Blazers.
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