Five nights before, Southport coach Kyle Simpson was saying, he was ready to jump off a cliff. Here were the Cardinals, preseason No. 1 in Class 4A boys basketball, coming off a 20-point loss to Franklin Central and falling to 5-5.
“We were at a crossroads,” he said. “We had won 13 straight conference games, and we looked like a team that didn’t even want to be out there.”
So what happened Wednesday night at Southport Fieldhouse?
The Cardinals used a 2-3 zone defense and balanced scoring to crush No. 1 North Central 70-48 in a quarterfinal of the Marion County Tournament.
The Cardinals (7-5) advanced to a semifinal against Lawrence North (10-2) at 6 p.m. Friday, also at Southport. It was the first defeat for North Central (11-1).
The game attracted college coaches Chris Holtmann of Butler, Tom Crean of Indiana and John Groce of Illinois. They were there to see juniors Kris Wilkes and Paul Scruggs.
Wilkes scored 18 points for North Central. Southport had its usual big two of Scruggs (20 points) and 6-10 Butler signee Joey Brunk (15), but the bonus was 16 points from guard/wide receiver Blake Evans. Evans had 104 catches and 22 touchdowns in football, but the adjustment to basketball has taken time.
Before the Franklin Central debacle, the Cardinals’ four losses were by a collective 10 points, two in overtime. Evans is one of nine football players on the hoop squad.
“The credit to our kids is, they’re understanding their roles and are playing together,” Simpson said.
Southport scored the last 12 points of the second quarter to seize a 30-21 halftime lead. After the Panthers trimmed that to 33-31, Southport outscored them 18-3 and extended the margin to 51-34 through three quarters. Brunk sank two 3-pointers a minute apart in that spree, shouting and shaking his fist after the second.
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“It’s more of a just a product of the work I put in,” Brunk said. “When that happens, I just can’t help but get a little excited.”
The Cardinals were rewarded for sharing the ball, featuring five players sinking eight 3s.
Simpson said he has tried all season to get Scruggs and Brunk “on the same page,” to trust teammates and to resist frustration.
“Paul is such a competitor and he’s such a warrior, he’s just like, ‘Get on my back. I’m taking on the entire team,’” Simpson said. “I told him, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t play one-on-five.’ Everyone stands and watches him.”
Last year’s 23-3 Southport team reached the Marion County semifinals, only to lose to eventual champion Pike 92-86 in four overtimes.
Call Star reporter David Woods at (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.
SOUTHPORT 70, NORTH CENTRAL 48
North Central 16 5 13 14 – 48
Southport 13 17 21 19 – 70
North Central (11-1) – Rivera 6, Hunt 5, Tyrie Johnson 4, Taylor 1, Waldon 3, Little 4, Singleton 3, Wilkes 18, James 4. Totals: 18 8-12 48.
Southport (7-5) – Scruggs 20, Evans 16, Reyes 7, Higgs 2, Walton 8, Slaughter 2, Brunk 15. Totals: 23 16-27 70.
3-point goals: North Central 4 (Rivera 2, Hunt, Wilkes), Southport 8 (Scruggs 2, Evans, Reyes 2, Walton, Brunk 2.