MOUNT VERNON — The Centerburg boys basketball team dug itself a hole Wednesday that even the best mountain climber couldn’t get out of. The Trojans didn’t score a basket in the first half in dropping their sectional tournament opener to West Jefferson 42-38 at Mount Vernon High School.
“You can’t start like that and win,” said Centerburg coach Jim Simpson. “We were real sluggish. We did not have a good practice all week and it rubbed off tonight. We just did not play a good game.”
The tone was set early by the Roughriders (10-11). Three straight drives to the basket gave the Riders a 6-0 lead and Centerburg was forced to call a time out in an attempt to slow them down.
The Trojans (14-7) got it figured out defensively, holding West Jeff to just one basket the remainder of the first quarter. But the lid remained on the Trojans’ basket, as they went 0-for-10 shooting from the field in the first quarter.
“We talked before the game about playing good defense,” said West Jeff coach Bob Hunter. “We wanted to contain their two kids we thought were the scorers and not let anyone else beat us.
“I thought athletically, man-for-man, I thought we were a little better. We outquicked them and outhustled them.”
The second quarter wasn’t much different for the Trojans, as they went another period without scoring a basket. Centerburg ended the first half missing all 19 of its shots from the floor.
Junior Brandt Lambert helped keep Centerburg in the game by making all nine of his free-throw attempts in the second quarter. That, and some more good defense from the Trojans kept the score within eight at halftime, 17-9.
“We let them take us out of our offense and never really got into a flow,” Simpson said. “We spotted them too many early, but were never really out of the game. There’s not too many games where you don’t make a basket in the first half and are still in the game. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
The Trojans made a valiant effort in the second half, closing the gap to just one point with 1:35 left in the game. Junior Skyler Simpson was the spark for the Trojans in the fourth quarter, scoring two straight 3-pointers and nine straight as they inched back into the game.
A 3-pointer from sophomore Garrison Myles had the Trojans still within one, 39-38, with 22 seconds left, but West Jeff hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final seconds to seal the deal.
“They (Centerburg) could have packed it in. We talked at halftime about what we needed to do to keep ahead. Our kids hung in there,” Hunter said.
Simpson led the Trojans with 13 points and nine rebounds. Lambert added 11 points, Myles had eight points and junior Collin Bumpus had six. Sophomore Drew Osborne pulled down six rebounds and handed out three assists.
“We’ve got a lot back next year,” said coach Simpson, whose team loses just two seniors. “We’ve got to learn to play together. We’ve got the potential to have a good team next year.”
West Jeff was led by D.J. Mendenhall, who had 10 points. Eric Love added nine points, while Drew Underwood had eight points and 11 rebounds.
The Roughriders will now take on Highland on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. at Mount Vernon.