By MARK SALUKE KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — ALEXANDRIA — It may take a full four quarters to make a basketball game, but Eastern showed you can get the job done in just one during its Class 2A Sectional 39 opener with Sheridan Wednesday night.
Tied at 19-all two quarters in, the Comets busted out of the locker room on fire to start the second half, outscoring the Blackhawks 24-6 in the third frame to go up 43-25 and cruising to a 52-33 win.
Eastern (4-17) advances to face Madison-Grant (9-12), a 55-49 winner over Elwood in OT Wednesday, in Friday’s second semifinal. Tipton and Taylor square off in the first semifinal. The Comets and Argylls didn’t meet in the regular season.
Eastern blistered the nets at a 77 percent clip (10 of 13) in the third quarter on the way to the 18-point advantage heading into the final frame, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the period.
“Couldn’t have asked for a better third quarter,” Eastern coach Mike Springer said. “We stressed at half time that we needed to win the third quarter and win it big. We called some plays for Noah [Cope] to get a three to start the half and he did. We hit some big shots and turned the tide our way.”
Cope, who finished with 15 points to lead Eastern, connected from downtown just 12 seconds into the second half and when Sheridan’s Brock Kitchel answered with one at the other end, the Comet junior did it again, putting his squad up for good, 25-22, at 7:19.
Eastern strung together an 18-3 run to close out the period, its lead swelling to double digits, 34-24, on Blake Shrader’s trey at 3:24 and continuing to climb to the 18-point margin heading into the final eight minutes.
Comparatively, Sheridan (3-18) shot just 2 of 15 in the period and finished the second half shooting just 14 percent (3 of 21) from the field.
“One team came out with desire. That team punched us in the mouth, and we just laid down and took it,” Sheridan coach Cory Dunn said. “They had some kids who shot better than they have every single time I’ve watched them. You start giving guys confidence and then you can’t do anything on the other end and turn the ball over, that just keeps building up that other team’s momentum.”
Things continued to collapse for Sheridan in the fourth quarter. The Blackhawks committed half of their 14 turnovers in the final eight minutes as the Comets lead grew to 23 points, 48-25, on Jacob Kinder’s hoop with 6:28 to play.
“The kids played extremely hard and focused,” Springer said. “We wanted to get some good pressure on them defensively. We made them throw some passes they didn’t want to and we took advantage of their turnovers.”
The Comets also took advantage on the glass, outrebounding Sheridan 40-23. Braden Evans pulled down ten boards for Eastern.
Braden Gibson finished with 10 points for Eastern, nine of those in the first half as the senior sharpshooter was quiet with just one point in the second half.
“They just really keyed in on making him give up the basketball after the first quarter,” Springer said. “He adjusted and did a good job of finding the open man.”
Gibson knocked down a pair of first-quarter 3-pointers, scoring seven points in the frame as the Comets held a 12-11 lead at the start of the second quarter, which saw Sheridan take its last lead at 19-16 before Cope’s 3-pointer tied it at 19-all headed into the half.
That’s when the fireworks went off for Eastern, who managed just 26 percent (7 of 27) from the field in the first half before going off on a 14-of-24 (58 percent) spree over the final 16 minutes.
“We missed some shots in the first half that we normally hit,” Springer said. “I think our lack of varsity experience was really a factor early in the game. In the second half, obviously we scored some points, but our overall intensity just seemed great.”
FINAL Eastern 52 Sheridan 33 Next: Eastern faces Madison-Grant Friday