ROSSVILLE — It had all the ingredients of a battle to the finish — that is in the early moments.
But once Rossville’s relentless Hornets grabbed the reins, they took good advantage of their physical superiority and a 24-7 advantage at the charity stripe and walked away with a 57-39 Hoosier Heartland Conference win over Tri-Central here Friday night.
The Hornets, now 7-3 overall and 3-0 in the conference, leaned heavily on 6-foot-6 E.T. Brenneman (20 points, 13 rebounds), 5-11 Austin Miller (15 points) and 6-4 Brandon Tonsoni (11 points).
Still, it was a close contest most of the first half as the Trojans (4-5, 1-1 HHC) fought back from a 16-8 second-quarter deficit via 9-6 run to get within 22-17 at halftime.
But as the situation has been in recent bouts, the Trojans couldn’t muster enough offense to stay with the Hornets. They finished with 17 baskets in 46 attempts (.369), but suffered through the first three quarters when they managed meager outputs of 3 of 12, 4 of 12 and 4 of 10 before finishing with 6 of 10.
But there were three glaring flies in the ointment: 1)They missed seven wide-open layups; 2) They went an icy 2 of 10 on 3-pointers, and 3) They had only seven chances at the foul line the entire game, hitting just three.
The Hornets shot a torrid .563 afield (18-32) that included 4 of 11 from 3-range, canned 17 of 24 free throws (.768) including 13 of 19 the last half and won the boards by a decisive 25-18 count. Rossville ruled the inside as Brenneman, Tonsoni and 6-2 Kyle Bordner outscored the Trojan front line 36-19 and 6-4 Clayton Howard and 6-4 Elijah Beard came off the bench to add to the mismatch.
TC coach Kyle Zahn commented: “The final score is not indicative of the game. We missed those seven baskets right under the hoop, and we had to take chances and foul late in the game which put them on the line. Otherwise, this could have been a much closer game.
“We did a good job of reversing the ball and had a good mix of inside and outside, but we failed to take advantage of our opportunities. The real story is we just missed to many easy shots.”
Senior guard Garrett Dick had a breakout game with 20 points including 13 of TC’s final 22 tallies, to which Zahn offered: “He had a great game, a thing we’ve been waiting on.”
The Trojans opened the contest with two easy misses underneath, grabbed their only lead of the game at 6-5 but then saw Brenneman, Miller and Tonsoni go on an 8-0 spree for a 13-6 Rossville command.
TC rallied from a 20-10 hole at 5:13 of the second period to get within 22-17 at halftime. But the third period saw Brenneman, Miller, Tonsoni and Howard put together a 15-4 run to build a 39-25 lead entering the final segment. Dick tried to keep TC afloat with three baskets, but Seth Blunck got the only other tally.
Dick continued his effort in the final period with seven markers, but the Hornets were never seriously threatened thanks to five hoops in six attempts and 8-of-11 charity work. The closest Tri-Central got in that final period was 44-32, and a 13-7 Hornet run wrote the finish.