Central’s run in the IHSAA boys basketball state tournament ended on Saturday night, with a game that was perhaps even more exciting than the three that allowed the Bearcats to get to the Class 3A Blackford Regional championship game.
Central fell 50-47 in overtime to Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger to end its season. The Bearcats had a shot to win at the end of regulation and a shot to tie at the end of overtime, but both looks were contested and neither went their way.
The loss caps an improbable run for a team that finished the season with a losing record (11-12) even with its tournament wins. Yet Central rattled off tight wins against Hamilton Heights and Yorktown to win a sectional title, then another close victory against Norwell in Saturday’s regional semifinals.
“They’re not a .500 basketball team,” Dwenger (17-8) coach Matt Kostoff said, touting Central as a more difficult opponent than its record indicates.
Kostoff cited Central’s improved record with senior center Tyler Arens in the lineup and strength of schedule among reasons why he believed the Bearcats’ record to be deceptive. The Bearcats finished the season 9-3 with Arens in the lineup and 2-9 in games without him.
Dwenger forced three turnovers in overtime, and Central wasn’t able to recover from the lost possessions. Central led 47-44 and had the ball with 1:44 remaining in overtime, but Dwenger responded by scoring the game’s final six points.
“The turnovers were huge, because they had us on the ropes there in overtime,” Kostoff said.
Dwenger also got key contributions from Grady Eifert when the game hung in the balance. Eifert scored eight points in the first quarter, then scored eight more in the fourth quarter and overtime combined. He scored five points in overtime, including two made free throws after he stole the ball from Central on one of the Bearcats’ three overtime turnovers. Those two free throws turned a one-point deficit into a one-point lead for the Saints.
Eifert did not score in the middle two periods of the game, though his 16 total points were a team high for the Saints. Kyle Hartman was the other Dwenger player to crack double-figures, scoring 11.
Dwenger also had an 18-14 rebounding advantage for the game. The Bearcats outrebounded the Saints 7-4 in the first quarter, then struggled to match them on the glass the rest of the way.
Central was led by Arens, who scored 19 points, the exact total he logged in the win against Norwell. He scored four points in overtime, all but two of his team’s points in the extra period.
Marcus Dukes and Joe Williams each scored 11 points for the Bearcats. Williams scored eight points in the fourth quarter to help his team come back from a four-point deficit at the beginning of that period. Phillip Corthen scored six points, the only other Central player to score.
Central coach Matt Fine and requested players left the school without attending the regional’s designated press conference after the game.