By TRAVIS MILLER Kokomo Tribune
---- — ALEXANDRIA — The Eastern boys basketball program entered Friday night having last won consecutive IHSAA sectional games in 1980. Jimmy Carter was the President at the time and Eastern beat Western and Haworth to reach the Kokomo Sectional final where the Comets dropped a 45-43 heart-breaker to the Wildkats.
Well, the Comets are still alive in 2014 despite that long streak of postseason futility and despite just a 3-17 regular-season record. The Comets used a late first-quarter barrage of 3-pointers to build a double-digit lead and it never looked back in a 62-53 win over Madison-Grant in a Class 2A Alexandria Sectional semifinal Friday night.
“This is the first time this year we have won two games back to back,” Eastern coach Mike Springer said. “We’re still hungry, too. We’re going to come out [tonight] and get after it. We’re trying to build up the program and we have kids that are working awfully hard and have a real positive attitude despite our record.”
The Comets will face three-time defending sectional champ Tipton in the final.
Against Madison-Grant, Eastern (5-17) trailed only once at 2-0 after 6-foot-9 center Tanner Wise scored inside. Despite the huge size advantage that Wise had against the Comets, Eastern was able to contain him for much of the rest of the night.
“He is a kid that does a great job around the basket and we really wanted to use our quickness on him,” Springer said. “We couldn’t stand and push on him. We had to be moving all around him but the first line of defense was ball pressure and we did a great job of getting pressure and stopping them from getting looks into Wise.”
A barrage of 3-pointers in the final two minutes of the first quarter proved to be a huge difference-maker for the Comets. Noah Cope connected from long range with 2:11 and 1:09 left in the quarter, while Jacob Kinder added one with 30 seconds left and Trey Thomas beat the buzzer with one of his own to give Eastern a 20-9 lead after one. The Comets hit 8 of their first 10 field-goal attempts.
“We know you can’t win a game in the first quarter,” Springer said, “but we put ourselves in a great position to win.”
After opening the 11-point lead, Eastern was able to withstand and answer every run by the Argylls, keeping them at arm’s reach throughout. Eastern led 31-22 at the half and 46-37 after three, never letting Madison-Grant closer than six.
Kinder was a major answer to those brief runs by Madison-Grant, as the 6-2 sophomore posted a huge game of 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Cope finished with 11 points while Braden Evans added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Tipton won the regular season meeting 52-40 at Eastern on Feb. 1, but Springer called that game a bit of a turning point.
“That game, it sounds weird, but it gave our kids some confidence,” said Springer. “We were in it throughout before they spread it to 12 at the end. They are really good in the last quarter of games but we gained confidence we could be right there with a team like them.”