Warriors surge past Tritons

Indian Hills freshman Braxton Bayless (4) drives to the basket while being defended by Iowa Central freshman Jaxon Smith (20) on Saturday afternoon at the Hellyer Student Life Center in Ottumwa.

OTTUMWA — When asked how things were going prior to his postgame interview on Saturday, Hank Plona was honest.

"A lot better than I was doing an hour ago."

Iowa Central became the first team this season to enter the Hellyer Student Life Center and grab a lead at halftime against the 11th-ranked Indian Hills basketball team. The Warriors responded by with their most explosive half of the season, outscoring the Tritons 73-39 in the final 20 minutes to earn a 119-87 win on Saturday afternoon.

"We're a good offensive team, but our defense has really been our calling card all year. I thought, especially late in the first half, that our mentality wasn't on doing our job on the defensive end. For the first time all year, I think our focus became more about who should be scoring."

As a result, Iowa Central was able to turn a 35-21 deficit into a 48-46 lead by the end of the first half. Two timeouts and stern messages to his team could not keep Plona's squad from having to face a second-half deficit at home for the first time this season.

The Warriors wouldn't stay behind for long in the second half, scoring 18 of the first 21 points in the final 20 minutes. Indian Hills shot over 69 percent from the field in the second half, making 25 of 36 field goal attempts on the way to earning a seventh straight win.

"This is as close of a group as any team we've had. When you're winning consistently, sometimes that individual mentality creeps in," Plona said. "This was really the first time that's creeped in this year. We refocused in the second half. We did score a lot of points, but our defense was the basis for it.

"When you're taking the basketball out of the hoop every time, you don't have transition opportunities. You're not able to get as many easy baskets. When you're able to get stops, rebounds and steals, some pretty dynamic plays can happen for you on offense."

Tyem Freeman had some of the most dynamic plays of the day for the Warriors, leading Indian Hills with a game-high 29 points including several explosive dunks to help keep the energy up for the home team. Taj Anderson added 20 points for the Warriors, who had six different players reach double figures in scoring helping turn the first home halftime deficit into the season's highest-scoring effort for the Warriors.

"The first five minutes of every half is important. It sets the tone," said IHCC freshman Curtis Jones after scoring 15 points in the second half while dishing out a team-best six assists. "We had to up our pace on defense. We were playing at about 80 percent speed in the first half. We knew we had to come out strong and dial it in."

Jaxon Smith led Iowa Central with 27 points, hitting 8-12 shots from the field including all five attempts from 3-point range for the 4-4 Tritons. No. 11 Indian Hills (7-1) heads to Marshalltown on Wednesday for a battle of the top two teams in the overall Iowa Community College Athletic Conference standings.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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