Thursday, March 01, 2018 1:00 am
East Noble 59 Bishop Dwenger 49
Knights' 10-year sectional skid ends
Hold Saints to just 38 percent from field
MARK SCHUTTE | For The Journal Gazette
KENDALLVILLE – East Noble has its eye on much bigger things in the coming days, but Wednesday was a pretty big day in a season of rebirth and rejuvenation for the Knights' basketball program.
They won a sectional game.
No. 10 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 many downtrodden seasons ago.
East Noble's current leader, second-year coach Ryan Eakins, and his players were well aware of the program's postseason winless streak.
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 awhile 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 night's first game with a 66-43 win over Northrop.