By MARK SALUKE
---- — GREENTOWN – Talk about a hot start.
Eastern bolted to an 18-0 lead against visiting Maconaquah Wednesday night and never looked back, leading throughout in a 64-49 Mid-Indiana Conference win.
The Comets (3-12, 2-3) shot a sizzling 64 percent in the first half – including 7-of-10 from beyond the arc – on the way to a comfortable 37-20 lead at the half. For the game, coach Mike Springer’s squad shot 54 percent (21-of-39) overall and 62 percent (8-of-13) from downtown.
“We knew they were going to come out in a zone and we’ve been practicing moving the ball against a 1-2-2 and a 2-3,” Springer said. “We did a really, really good job of playing from the inside out tonight. Most of our 3’s were the result of a post man catching the ball in the lane and finding an open man.”
Noah Cope finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting. The junior was 4-of-6 over the first 16 minutes including 2-of-3 from 3-land. Braden Gibson knocked down 5-of-7 first half 3-pointers, including three in the first frame, on the way to 19 points in the game.
“That got us off to a good start,” Springer said. “At the same time, defensively, when you can hold a team to zero points as long as we did, that’s a great start. I just felt like, defensively, we were really focused and knew what we wanted to do.”
Maconaquah (4-11, 0-6) didn’t light up the scoreboard with its first points until a pair of Luke Hann free throws with 1:05 to play in the first period. The Braves first field goal came with :03 remaining in the quarter as they ended up trailing 18-7 at the first stop.
“You’ve got to give it to Eastern how aggressively they came out and just took it to us,” Mac coach Andy Steele said. “We’re in the locker room motivated, ready to play. We come out, our warm-ups look good and we’re getting each other pumped up. As soon as the opening tip goes up, I’m at a loss for words from there. I don’t know what to do from that point on. We’re doing everything we can, but we just fell apart at the seams.”
The Braves shot just 3-of-13 from the field in the opening half and 5-of-18 over the first three quarters as Eastern’s lead swelled to 51-27 by the end of the third quarter.
In addition to the cold-shooting, the Braves’ 24 turnovers gave Eastern all the momentum it needed to keep the lead at more than a comfortable distance throughout the game.
“Obviously, when you’re down that much, you’ve got to try to do more than what’s expected,” Steele said. “That gave us some turnovers. Maybe we gambled a little too much. Right now, I feel like I’m in quicksand. It seems like anything we’re trying to do, offensively and defensively, line-up changes, whatever it is, nothing seems to be working. I’m sinking and I’m up to my neck right now. We need to find a way to regroup quickly.”
Mac might have got that hint of a spark in the waning moments Wednesday, going 8-of-14 over the final quarter. The Braves outscored the Comets 22-13 in the frame, shaving a 27-point Comet lead midway through the period to 15 by the final buzzer.
“We handled their run in the end,” Springer said. “We shot some bad shots but we held on to the ball and we were 11-of-12 from the free throw line down the stretch. Eventually, they were hitting their 3’s, but we were able to pull the game out.”
Sophomore Braden Evans added 11 points for the Comets, while K.J. Walton finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, both team-highs, for the Braves.
FINAL Maconaquah 49 Eastern 64 Next: Eastern visits Northwestern Friday; Mac visits Southwood Saturday.