GREENWOOD – Butler didn’t become a giant-killing college basketball team by always believing it was the underdog.
Zach Hahn, a guard on Butler’s national runner-up teams in 2010 and ’11, knows the Bulldogs weren’t expected to beat teams like Kansas State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Florida during those NCAA tournament runs. But that’s only from the outside looking in.
“Anytime you play, it’s five-on-five,” Hahn said. “You’ve got to put together your ultimate game plan, and if you do that, it doesn’t matter who you play as long as you play the way you want to play.”
Hahn, in his third season as coach at Center Grove, is faced with that challenge this week. The unranked Trojans (17-7), fresh off the program’s first sectional title in six years and second since 1994, will take on defending Class 4A state champion and No. 1-ranked New Albany (24-3) on Saturday in a regional semifinal at Seymour. The other regional matchup in Seymour is No. 8 Castle (22-3) vs. Bloomington South (22-4) at noon. The winners meet at 8 p.m.
The 8,110-capacity Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium in Seymour is basically New Albany’s home away from home. The Bulldogs have played eight games there the past two seasons, including three wins in the sectional last past week. More problematic for Hahn is the on-court presence of Romeo Langford, New Albany’s 6-4 junior star. Langford, who averages 29 points per game, has scored 2,014 points in three seasons.
“He really doesn’t have a weakness,” Hahn said of Langford. “He’s a pro, really. He’s a kid who if you take away one of his favorite moves, he’ll do something else. You just have to eliminate his touches as much as possible and make him uncomfortable with the ball occasionally. If you let him get comfortable, he’ll get going and make a bunch of shots in a row.”
Center Grove doesn’t have a star in the stratosphere of Langford, though 6-8 sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis is on the rise. The 6-8 Jackson-Davis (12.2 ppg, 9.0 rebounds) leads the Trojans in scoring and rebounding, but his biggest transition from early in the season has been more mental than physical.
“He’s done a better job of reading the defense,” senior Travis Roehling said. “He gets the ball and he can score a lot of times, but if it’s not there he’ll kick it to guards who are good shooters that can knock down shots.”
Shooters? Center Grove has a few. Spencer Piercefield, a 6-foot sophomore, is averaging 12.1 points per game primarily as a long-distance shooter (60-for-131 from the 3-point line). Roehling, a 6-1 senior, is a 43 percent 3-point shooter and averaging 11.2 points per game. Sophomore Ben Nicoson has moved up from the junior varsity into a key role and made 17-for-30 from the 3-point line.
“We’ve also been better getting to the rim,” Hahn said. “We’re shooting more free throws. The biggest thing we’ve done is turn the ball over less. The last seven games we’ve been around eight or nine turnovers. If you can stay under 10 turnovers and not have live-ball turnovers, you have a chance to stay in the game.”
Hahn had his team watch its 57-54 sectional championship victory over Franklin Central. With the score tied, Roehling drove and scored on a three-point play with 5 seconds left to provide the winning margin. But Hahn didn’t show it to his teams just for good vibes. He wanted them to hear the crowd.
“He showed us that last play and said it’s going to be three times that loud at Seymour for the entire game,” Roehling said. “This is basically a home game for them. We’re expecting a packed house. But noise isn’t going to be an issue as long as we communicate.”
The stage is big. But just being in Seymour on Saturday isn’t enough for Hahn. He doesn’t want his team thinking that way, either.
“Our kids are hungry,” Hahn said. “They aren’t satisfied with winning the sectional. We don’t talk about winning one game or one sectional. We have to have big-picture thinking.”
The picture doesn’t get much bigger than Langford and New Albany.
“This is the biggest game I’ve ever played in,” Jackson-Davis said. “But if we execute our stuff, we believe we can beat anyone.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNedenriep.
Other local 4A and 3A regional fields
Matchups: Homestead (23-3) vs. Fort Wayne North Side (24-2), 10 a.m.; Carmel (21-4) vs. McCutcheon (23-2), noon; Championship, 8 p.m.
Outlook: Carmel coach Scott Heady is looking to go out on a high note before taking over full-time at Marian University. The sixth-ranked Greyhounds were perhaps a surprise winner of Sectional 8 without leading scorer Sterling Brown (17.4 ppg), a senior who is a serving a five-game suspension. Brown could be back for the night game if Carmel can get past No. 5 McCutcheon in a rematch of last year’s 56-54 overtime win for McCutcheon in the regional semifinals. The Mavericks, last year’s state runner-up, are led by junior Robert Phinisee (21.4 ppg, 6.9 assists), senior Haden Deaton (18.6 ppg, 6.8 rebounds) and senior Eddy Collins (14.2 ppg). Fourth-ranked North Side might be the most talented team in the state, led by 6-8 sophomore Keion Brooks (21.7 ppg, 7.5 rebounds) and 6-11 senior Jaylen Butz (17.4 ppg, 12.3 rebounds). North Side defeated Homestead 62-60 during the season. The Spartans, a regional finalist last year (losing to McCutcheon), is led by 6-3 senior Jack Ferguson (19.3 ppg, 3.3 assists) and 6-6 senior Brandon Durnell (16.1 ppg, 7.3 rebounds). Homestead is two years removed from its only state title.
Matchups: Brownsburg (18-6) vs. Connersville (26-1), 10 a.m.; North Central (23-4) vs. Ben Davis (19-5), noon; Championship, 8 p.m.
Outlook: Get there early. Connersville will bring a lot of folks wearing red and white. The Spartans, coming off the program’s first sectional title last year since 1997, are back again and looking for more. Connersville, which won six overtime games during the season, is led by 6-6 senior Grant Smith (19.0 ppg, 10.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists). Brownsburg, just 5-18 last year, won its third sectional in four years under coach Steve Lynch. The Bulldogs are led by the duo of 6-foot sophomore Cameron Alford (17.3 ppg) and 6-4 senior Landon Hall (15.1 ppg, 5.2 rebounds). The second game is a matchup of Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rivals. Seventh-ranked North Central took both meetings over Ben Davis during the season, winning 68-57 and 70-59 over a five-day span in January. The Panthers, led by seniors Kris Wilkes, Mateo Rivera and Emmanuel Little, made relatively easy work of Sectional 10. But after last year’s loss to Terre Haute South in the regional semifinal, Doug Mitchell’s team is looking for a lot more. Ben Davis is one of the teams that can match North Central physically, led by 6-6 junior Aaron Henry, 6-4 senior Josh Brewer and 6-foot senior point guard Datrion Harper. This is the Giants first sectional title since 2010 and first in Mark James’ six seasons as coach. This the 79th meeting between the programs and the series is tied 39-39.
Matchups: Northview (18-8) vs. Crispus Attucks (21-4), 10 a.m.; Tri-West (22-3) vs. Danville (19-8), noon; Championship, 8 p.m.
Outlook: Fourth-ranked Attucks is riding an 11-game winning streak and is second in the state in scoring (79.6 points per game). The Tigers are led by 6-3 senior Nike Sibande (23.1 ppg, 7.3 rebounds) but he is hardly the only threat. Seniors Teyon Scanlan (12.4 ppg), Alex Cooley (11.9 ppg) and Zac Owens (11.1 ppg) are also averaging in double figures. Attucks is aiming for its first regional title since 1970. Northview is in the regional for the second consecutive year after edging Edgewood 73-71 in the sectional final. Northview is similarly balanced with five starters averaging between 10 and 15 points. Ninth-ranked Tri-West is looking to win the regional for second consecutive year riding a 12-game winning streak. The Bruins are led by junior Tyler Watson and senior Peyton Hendershot, the latter who returned from a foot injury to play in the sectional. Tri-West defeated Danville twice during the season, 52-40 and 68-55. Danville rebounded from a tough January to win eight of 10 games. Junior Alec Burton (17.2 ppg, 11.0 rebounds) and senior Zach Callahan (13.6 ppg) lead the Warriors.
• We’ll have more on the Class 2A and Class A regional matchups Friday online at IndyStar.com