By DOUG ZALESKI
Chandler Thompson didn’t like what he saw at Central’s boys basketball practice on Thursday.
He said the Bearcats weren’t in a groove, players went through the motions, there was no urgency to run plays correctly, and they were unable to do most of what was asked of them.
“It was a horrible day of practice,” Thompson said. “I got to the point where I was ready to kick them out of practice, but we started working on a few positive things, and we ended on a positive note. I didn’t want to kick them out of practice and come in today and let that linger for the sectionals.”
The Bearcats bounced back in 24 hours. On Friday night, they roared to a 9-0 lead against New Castle in the first couple of minutes at the Fieldhouse, never trailed in the game, and finished the regular season on a high note with a 56-36 victory against their former North Central Conference rival.
A focus of that Thursday practice was challenging players to play better on defense. The best scorer on the six previous Central opponents all managed to reach or exceed his scoring average.
“I’ve been telling them we can’t win like that,” Thompson said. “I want us to make it hard for their top player to get his points and get going.”
Mission accomplished against New Castle (10-12). Cole McDaniel, the Trojans’ top scorer with a 15.1 average, managed just 11 against the Bearcats (9-13).
Jayden Long started out guarding McDaniel and KJ Jackson, who returned from a multi-game absence, also helped out.
“Our guys fed off that energy, starting with Jayden at the beginning,” Thompson said. “Then Victor (Young) got in the passing lanes, and it was contagious after that.
“I think these guys want to win the sectional, and I’m hoping they come out and play with the same intensity and same fight and focus Wednesday.”
Young led Central’s attack with a game-high 21 points and tied Long for team honors with seven rebounds. Young also had four assists and two steals.
Young was playing at home for the first time since surpassing 1,000 career points a week earlier against McCutcheon. He now has 1,023. The senior was honored before the game for the accomplishment.
Young didn’t even realize he had reached the milestone when people began congratulating him after the game at McCutcheon.
“Coming in my freshman year, I didn’t know anything about scoring 1,000 points or anything like that,” he said. “I was confused about why they were congratulating me. Mr. (Don) Wafer said I had scored 1,000 points.”
Thompson said Young has been a model player in the program, never getting in trouble and always doing what he’s supposed to do.
“I’m proud he got to the 1,000-point mark because that’s important to him and his family,” Thompson said. “He has a college scholarship.”
Young will play next season at Saginaw Valley State in Michigan. New Castle native Barry Huckeby, who played at Miami of Ohio and was head coach at Blue River High School for seven seasons, is an assistant coach at Saginaw.
Next up for the Bearcats is sectional play at home next week, and Young thinks the win against New Castle will provide a nice boost going into the tournament.
“Even if we went into the sectional with zero wins, we’d feel we can take that sectional,” he said. “(Being at home) puts a little pressure on us because we’re going to have the city of Muncie here wanting to see us cut the nets down. Hopefully we can make it happen.”
The Bearcats have lost four of their past six games, but three of the losses were by eight points or fewer. Central beat its first sectional opponent, Pendleton Heights (8-15 with seven straight losses), 75-59 just 18 days ago.
“We’re playing a team we’ve already played, and it’s like an eight-quarter game and we’ve already won the first four quarters,” Thompson said. “Now it’s 0-0 going into the next four quarters, and let’s just win each quarter by one point. I’d be OK with that.”
The Central-Pendleton Heights game in the seven-team Class 4A Central Sectional will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The semifinals will be March 6 and the title game March 7.