INDIANAPOLIS – With two minutes left in the season opener, Jeffersonville was poised to shock the state. An unknown band of misfits, playing without fear, had the top-ranked team in Indiana on the defensive.
That’s when Southport’s pedigree and talent advantage finally surfaced. Joey Brunk powered to a three-point play and Paul Scruggs swooped inside for a layup on back-to-back possessions that snapped a deadlock, and a steal on Jeffersonville’s final possession preserved Southport’s 61-56 victory on Wednesday night at Southport Fieldhouse.
Brunk, a 6-foot-10 Butler signee, scored 22 points and grabbed 20 rebounds as the Cardinals fought off an upset bid by the unknown Red Devils, who made their debut under new coach Joe Luce and almost did the unthinkable – knock off the top dog in Game 1.
MORE COVERAGE | New coach, new era, new attitude at Jeffersonville
Jeffersonville (0-1) never led but never let Southport pull away, erasing an 11-point deficit in the second quarter and finally pulling even at 52-52 on Gerrin Moore’s corner 3-pointer with two minutes left.
Southport leaned on its stars, and they delivered. Brunk fought his way through traffic in the low post and scored at 1:36. Scruggs, another future Division I recruit with offers from Indiana and Kansas, gave the Cardinals a 57-52 lead with a drive and a left-handed finish.
The Devils nearly battled back one last time. Dechaun Lewis hit a free throw with 21 seconds left that trimmed the lead to 59-56, and the Devils forced a Scruggs turnover. Out of timeouts, the Devils had the ball on the sideline at midcourt with 9.8 left, but Elijah Watson intercepted the inbound pass and raced for the broke away for the game-clinching layup.
Nobody expected Jeffersonville, a totally rebuild team from a year ago, to compete with the appointed No.1. The Devils were probably alone in the belief they could compete. They did much more than that.
“We expected to win,” Luce said. “That’s what we came to do. Every game we play, we will expect the same thing.”
Brunk presented the big problem for the Devils. He dominated the paint, cleaned up any rebounds, and asserted himself when the pressure tightened his team.
“It was not a tight of us being No.1 and trying not to lose,” Brunk said. “It was playing to win. We were lucky enough to hang on.”
Southport had nine players coming off football, including Scruggs, who scored 10 points. He was constantly double-teamed and forced to give up the ball, which required other shooters to step into the void. Jeffersonville was willing to live with that.
Last season, Southport crushed the Devils 86-59 in Johnson Arena. That’s how much progress the Devils have made.
“I’m not surprised,” Southport coach Kyle Simpson said. “I’ve known Joe a long time. Adding him to the mix, what he brings to the table, it was going to be a dogfight. They’re going to surprise some people.”
Brandon Coleman came off the bench to score 16 points and Demarre Sims added 12 as Jeffersonville kept attacking.
Luce probably didn’t know what he had before the Devils stepped on the court. He found out a lot when they left.
“I’m still getting the names right,” Luce joked. “We found out a lot. Winning can be different things. It can be on the court, it can be with steps forward, or coming together as a group. In many ways, we won today. But we’re not about getting close, we’re about getting ot the next level.
“The one thing you didn’t see was a lack of effort at any point. The shock value hit them about three months ago. We’ve tried to set a tone and establish a culture. We expect to play against the best.”
They did that, at least according to the polls.
Southport had 16 turnovers but got critical points from Luke Johnston (9) and Jamie Burnette (8). But the key was Brunk, who wore out the Devils with 10 offensive rebounds.
“Joey stepped up and made a big play,” Simpson said. “He was tremendous. We won, that’s all you can say. First game, and we’re 1-0. At least the turkey will taste a little better.”
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at email@example.com
Jeffersonville 11 14 16 15 – 56
Southport 19 13 14 15 – 61
Jeffersonville (0-1) – Gerrin Moore 7, Bailey Faulkenstein 3, Dechaun Lewis 5, Demarre Sims 12, Tommy Luce 6, Brandon Coleman 16, Kooper Faulkenstein 3, Treyton Dickerson 4.
Southport (0-0) – Paul Scruggs 10, Jamie Burnette 8, Joey Brunk 22, Luke Johnston 9, Elijah Walton 5, Sergey Slaughter 3, Blake Evans 4.
3-pointers – Moore 1, B. Faulkenstein 1, Luce 2, Coleman 2, K. Faulkenstein 1, Burnette 2, Johnston 1, Slaughter 1.