LAGRANGE – Central Noble got even with Churubusco on Wednesday night, building a 13-point lead in the first quarter at Prairie Heights and staying ahead to beat the Eagles 81-71 in the second round of the NECC Tournament.
It was the first time Central Noble (11-1) had beaten Churubusco (8-2) since the semifinals of the 2020 NECC Tournament, when the Cougars prevailed 63-57 on their way to the tournament title. Churubusco defeated Central Noble in a regular season meeting two weeks later, and the Eagles beat the Cougars 54-49 to claim the sectional title in the final game before the basketball season was suspended at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Wednesday, Central Noble struck back and junior Connor Essegian, who last week became the leading scorer in program history, scored a personal-best 44 points to keep the Cougars alive for the conference championship.
“It's a great feeling, but it's just something that happens with the work that you put in,” Essegian said. “Without any of my teammates, coaches and the Central Noble community, it couldn't have been possible.”
Essegian was unstoppable, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 16 points in the first quarter. By the fourth quarter, the Busco defense was unable to keep him out of the paint and away from the basket. He had three old-fashioned 3-point plays in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Churubusco seniors Jackson Paul and Landen Jordan were held to 19 and 13 points, respectively, well below average for a duo that is averaging a combined 45 points.
“I think our defense was, for the most part, pretty good,” Central Noble coach John Bodey said. “We wanted to keep Jackson out of the paint – he's good, he's going to get there.
“When we hit shots and defend like we have for the last couple weeks, we're going to be pretty good.”
During a run in the first quarter in which Essegian, Ryan Schroeder, Logan Gard and Sawyer Yoder all scored, the Cougars built a 19-9 advantage. They led 28-18 at the end of the first.
Churubusco senior Luke McClure, who finished with 15 points, scored seven in the second quarter to eat into Central Noble's lead as the Cougars led 38-32 at halftime. The Eagles still trailed by seven points at the end of the third quarter, but in the opening minutes of the fourth, Yoder hit back-to-back 3s that put the Cougars up 58-45 and essentially put the game on ice. Yoder finished with 10 points.