This weekend is shaping up to be an important one for the Clinton Prairie boys’ basketball team.
The Gophers have lost five of their last six games and consecutive Hoosier Heartland Conference contests loom on the schedule tonight. The Gophers travel to Sheridan (10-4, 1-1 HHC) tonight and play host to Carroll (8-7, 2-1 HHC) on Saturday.
Prairie is playing back-to-back conference games because Sheridan was still part of the Hoosier Conference when the schedule contract for the two schools was signed. When Sheridan joined the HHC before last season, the dates for the Sheridan or Carroll games were not changed.
Prairie head coach Eric Ulrich said he’s not a fan of the schedule and the school is looking to move one of the games for next year.
“You’d like to not have that be the case. We’re trying to get that adjusted,” Ulrich said. “Certainly it’s very difficult to have to play back-to-back conference games but Carroll’s in a difficult situation too where they play their biggest rival (Delphi) the night before. As emotional of games we have to play, they will as well.”
Gopher victories in both games would hand Rossville the conference title outright.
Prairie’s last three losses – to Tri-County, University and North White – have come by an average of 16.7 points. The Gophers also averaged 16.7 turnovers per game in those three contests, just a shade below their average of 17.3.
“We haven’t played a solid 32-minute game yet,” Ulrich said. “We played well for three quarters at North White and died in one quarter. It seems like every game we have a stretch where for a full quarter or half where we lost focus a little bit and that’s something we’re trying to get corrected.”
Lost in the shuffle of the losses is the breakout performance of junior Austin Martin, who’s establishing himself as one of the better scorers in the Greater Lafayette area.
Miller has been on a tear the past nine games, kicking it off with a 31-point performance against Rossville on Dec. 21. Two games later, Martin poured in 26 in a victory over Clinton Central, finished with 21 against McCutcheon and reached its peak on Saturday, when the junior erupted for 34 points on 11 of 13 shooting from both the field and the free-throw line.
“First and foremost, he’s really just starting to believe he can compete at a high level,” Ulrich said. “He’s got a lot of confidence in his skills; he’s played a lot of basketball and it’s paying off. He’s very aggressive on both ends of the floor and that’s something that’s keeping him going.
“He’s determined to score for us right now.”
Martin is averaging a county-best 16.7 points per game. What makes his feat even more amazing is that Martin only scored in double figures twice last season. He’s already reached the 10-point plateau nine times this season, including six of his last seven games.
“Certainly, he has exceeded our expectations on how confidently he’s playing,” Ulrich said. “He’s playing like a seasoned basketball player and doesn’t get rattled. He loves a challenge.”
Martin, listed at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds, is getting nearly all of his points inside and at the free-throw line, almost unheard of for someone his size. Martin rarely shoots 3-pointers – he’s attempted a total of 24 the past two years (16 last year and eight this year) and only made five of those.
“He’s a strong kid that can dribble-drive and get himself to the rim,” Ulrich said. “He’s got a very good first step and has the ability to go right and left, which keeps opponents on their heels.”
Sheridan is led by high-scoring senior guard Tyler Jones, who is averaging 24.1 points per game and eclipsed the 33-point total three times this season.
Carroll is led by senior Eric Miller (13.7 ppg) and sophomore Brandon Dillon (10.4 ppg).
“It’s certainly a difficult challenge for us to try to contain (Jones),” Ulrich said.
County matchup Saturday: Frankfort (11-4, 2-1 Sagamore Athletic Conference) looks to make it four straight wins and eight of nine with a pair of weekend contests. The Hot Dogs play host to Danville (13-3, 3-2 SAC) tonight and travel to Clinton Central (1-14, 1-3 HHC) on Saturday.
The Warriors, like the Hot Dogs, were ranked in Class 3A earlier in the season, but losses to Avon and Tri-West took Danville out of the rankings. Danville has owned Frankfort, beating the Hot Dogs three straight times and nine out of 10. Frankfort’s lone victory in that stretch was a 59-56 win in the 2008-09 season when Troy Porter hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Danville has a pair of 17-ppg scorers in senior Avery Motes (17.6 ppg) and Ian Asher (17.3 ppg).
On the flip side, Frankfort has enjoyed unprecedented success against Clinton Central. Dating back to the 1993-94 season, the Hot Dogs are 18-2 against the Bulldogs, including five consecutive wins.
Before taking on Frankfort, the Bulldogs will have a conference matchup against Tri-Central (4-11, 1-2 HHC).
Elsewhere: Rossville (8-8, 4-0 HHC) gets a chance to pull off one of the largest upsets of the season tonight against Class 3A No. 7 Lebanon (12-2). Perhaps the Tigers will be caught looking ahead to their Saturday night matchup against Class 4A No. 10 Kokomo.
The Tigers are led seniors Caleb Brannon (19.9 ppg) and Cord Barricklow (14.1 ppg, 12.3 rpg). Brannon has scored 23 points or more in the past three games, including 28 against Westfield on Saturday.