Wednesday, February 28, 2018 10:40 pm
East Noble gets landmark victory in sectional
MARK SCHUTTE | For The Journal Gazette
KENDALLVILLE – East Noble has its eye on much bigger things in the coming days, but in a season of rebirth and rejuvenation Wednesday was a pretty big day for the Knights’ basketball program.
They won a sectional game.
No. 10-ranked East Noble opened play in the Class 4A sectional on its home court with a 59-49 win over Bishop Dwenger, moving the Knights to 21-2 overall and into a Friday night matchup with No. 13 Carroll.
The last win for the Knights in sectional play came in a 66-64 victory over Northrop in 2008, five coaches and 10 many downtrodden seasons ago.
East Noble’s current leader, second-year coach Ryan Eakins, and his players were well aware the program was 0 for the last decade in the postseason.
Just as they knew how long it had been since they won a conference championship (the Knights went undefeated in Northeast Eight play this year), how long it had been since they won 20 games (1997) and how they have not won a sectional championship since 2001.
“We’ve talked about a lot of the things that it’s been a while for our program,” Eakins said. “We sat down in November and I asked the kids what they wanted to accomplish, and they said they wanted to win the conference, they wanted to win 20 games, they wanted to win a sectional. I just looked at them like, ‘You guys are going to have work your tails off.’
“So yeah, this is something these kids knew existed, and it’s great to kind of get that monkey off our back and get one down. We talked about this week is like a three-step ladder and if we want to be on top of the ladder cutting down (nets) on (Saturday) night we’ve got a couple steps we’ve got to go to get there.”
The Knights made the first step by beating a Dwenger team for the second time in three weeks. In the rematch, East Noble improved on its 48-41 win by taking the lead for good three minutes into the game and withstanding a second-half rally by the Saints (12-11).
Junior Ali Ali led the Knights with 24 points, while sophomore Hayden Jones added 16.
“I thought Ali was just filthy tonight,” Eakins said. “I thought he made some ridiculous shots. But I thought our other guys made great adjustments at the half on the offensive end. Obviously he played really, really well on the offensive end, but our guys did a great job defensively all night long.”
The Knights forced Dwenger into some rushed shots all night and limited the Saints to 38 percent shooting from the field.The one breakdown came at the opening of the second half when Dwenger went on an 8-2 run to cut East Noble’s lead to 29-28.
But the Knights answered with a 10-0 run, capped by Ali’s step-back 3-pointer that made it 39-28 with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
“They made a great run in the early part of that third quarter,” Eakins said. “But our kids did something that mature players and mature basketball teams do and that is respond when the other team makes a run.”
Dwenger got no closer than six the rest of the way as the Knights made 13-of-17 free throws, sending them to Friday’s semifinals against Carroll, which advanced in Wednesday’s first game with a 66-43 win over Northrop.
Despite the 21 wins, the top 10 ranking and rebirth of the program, the Knights still feel a little unappreciated outside of Noble County.
“There’s no question our kids have a chip on their shoulder,” Eakins said. “They kind of feel slighted a little bit. We know we’re a good basketball team, but we don’t feel as if people believe that we can actually win Sectional 5. Our kids got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. And Friday night we’re going to get a chance to put our money where our mouth is and see if we’re able to stand toe-to-toe with the big dog and see what we can do.
“I’m looking forward to it, and I know our kids are looking forward to it. Our kids are so excited about Friday. They have a ton of respect for Carroll, but they’re really excited. We can’t wait to see what happens.”