DELPHI – Central Catholic saw an early double-digit lead dwindle to three points with 6:18 left in the game before Michael Vukas produced a critical three-point play to help propel the Knights to a 53-42 Hoosier Conference victory over the Delphi Oracles Tuesday night.
The game was a makeup from Friday contest that was postponed because of the weather. Central Catholic (6-2), ranked No. 7 in the latest Class A poll, was clinging to a 42-39 lead after Tyler Ross grabbed a Blaine Walters missed free throw for a put back.
It was closest Delphi (7-4) had been after falling behind 24-9 in the second quarter. But the Knights turned back the Oracles on three consecutive trips down the court where they could cut the lead to one or tie the contest after Delphi came up with stops on defense.
“We struggled again offensively tonight but I thought we played well in the two-three, especially in the fourth quarter and didn’t allow any open shots,” Central Catholic coach Dave Barrett said. “Michael’s play was huge and kind of broke their backs. We were then able to make our free throws down the stretch to get the win.”
Delphi coach Adam Ballard said it was a missed opportunity for his squad after fighting so hard to get back into the contest.
“It felt like it was a 42-39 contest for two or three minutes,” Ballard said. “We had a couple of shots that went down and came right back out and those are shots that we normally make.”
Vukas, whose playing time was limited most of the night because of foul trouble, drove the lane and converted the layup as he was fouled by Walters at the 3:26 mark. He made the free throw to put the Knights up 45-39.
After Walters made one free throw to cut the Knights lead to five a minute later, Jackson Anthrop made a layup and Luke Fusiek made four straight free throws in the final minutes to help put the contest away.
Fusiek led the Knights with 20 points, 12 of those coming from the free throw line. Anthrop added 13. Brent Hawn topped Delphi scorers with 18 points.
Central Catholic grabbed the early lead, hitting their first four shots from the field and shooting 62.5 percent from the field (10 of 16) in the first quarter as the Knights grabbed a 21-9 lead in the first period. The Knights expanded that lead to 15 points after two Joe Corcoran free throws with 5:19 left in the second quarter.
“Take away that first quarter, we spotted them 12 points right out of the gate,” Ballard said. “That’s really hard to come back from, especially a team that’s as well coached as Central Catholic is. We didn’t put the ball in the basket enough tonight. You can’t be anything but frustrated. You can’t be angry after a game like this.”
But Delphi came charging back behind Hawn and Mason Lane. Hawn’s 3-pointer and driving layup followed by consecutive 3-pointers by Lane got the Oracles right back into the game, trimming Central Catholic’s lead to 26-20.
Barrett said he thought the Knights contributed to the Oracles’ comeback by not converting on its end of the floor offensively.
“We’ve got to get that cleaned up,” Barrett said. “We had some good momentum going, then it’s turnover, turnover, and they hit a couple of 3-point shots and all of the sudden it’s a little tighter. You have given them credit because they just kept chipping away at us all night.”
The Knights led by nine points on two occasions in the third quarter, the last at 40-31 after a Avery Denhart put back with 2:20 to play, but Central Catholic could never pull away again. Delphi cut the lead once again to 42-36 by the end of the period, setting up its final comeback try.