Columbus East boys’ basketball coach Brent Chitty had only one day of practice to learn about his 12-player Indiana Junior All-Star team, but he took away one valuable lesson: Don’t mess with James Blackmon Jr. when he gets hot.
Blackmon, the 6-foot-2 Indiana University commitment, scored 21 of his 27 points after halftime as the Indiana stars rallied for a 108-102 victory over Kentucky on Friday night at Greenfield-Central High School.
Indiana needed every point Blackmon could supply against a Kentucky team that appeared to be outmanned going into the game.
“He did the same thing in practice (on Thursday),” Chitty said of Blackmon. “He started out kind of slow, and then it was like, ‘OK, here we go.’ You guys saw it.”
Park Tudor’s Trevon Bluiett added 17 points and 10 rebounds.
The Indiana girls beat Kentucky 79-67 in the first game. Logansport’s Whitney Jennings, a 5-5 Iowa recruit, led the Hoosiers with 23 points, and Roncalli’s Kellie Kirkhoff added 17.
This is the second year the two states’ juniors have squared off. The Indiana girls swept Kentucky last year, while the boys split. The teams will meet again today at St. Xavier High School in Louisville.
With nationally ranked players Blackmon, Bluiett, Indianapolis Tech’s Trey Lyles and Evansville Bosse’s JaQuan Lyle on the roster, it appeared the Indiana boys would have a significant advantage against a Kentucky team missing a couple of top players in University of Louisville commitment Quinten Snider and 6-8 Shane Hall.
That was hardly the case. Kentucky took a quick 10-2 lead and was up 71-60 midway through the second half. Justin Johnson, a 6-7 forward from Perry County Central, was a tough matchup for Indiana on the interior, scoring 20 points.
But Blackmon found his zone, scoring on 3-pointers, tip dunks and in transition. He scored 14 points in the final 10 minutes of regulation and overtime. Chitty stopped the regular five-in, five-out substitutions and just let Blackmon play.
“It was just whatever the coach wanted out of us,” Blackmon said. “Just seeing that I got going, (Chitty) had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself. Once I score a couple buckets, it makes me want to pick it up and defense and do whatever it takes to win.”
Kentucky wouldn’t go quietly, tying it at 90 when Ballard’s Kelan Martin drilled a 3-pointer from the top the key with 6.8 seconds left in regulation. Blackmon’s contested three at the buzzer caromed off the backboard.
Indiana put it away in overtime as Plymouth’s Mack Mercer, Blackmon and Bluiett combined for 14 points. The home team also received significant contributions from Frankton’s Aaron Korn (12 points), Greensburg’s Bryant McIntosh (10) and Fort Wayne Concordia’s D.J. McCall (nine).