OTTUMWA — In the biggest game of the season, Chris Payton provided the Indian Hills basketball team with the best performance.
Payton scored a career-high 29 points while hauling in nine rebounds and blocking three shots as the fifth-ranked Warriors took over the lead in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference standings, beating No. 23 Southeastern 80-62 on Saturday night at the Hellyer Student Life Center. The win evens the season series between the Highway 34 rivals following the Blackhawks 73-69 win over IHCC in West Burlington back on Jan. 15.
”Throughout the week, Coach (Hank Plona) told me to be aggressive. He told me to make sure not to pass up any open looks,” Payton said. “If I had the one-on-one match-ups, go for it. I did a good job picking my spots and being aggressive when I needed to. When it mattered and when it counted, I gave my all.”
The win moves Indian Hills a half-a-game ahead of the Blackhawks in the ICCAC with a 4-1 record, dropping Southeastern to 4-2. The Warriors can earn home court advantage for every postseason game up to the national tournament by winning the remaining three regional games on the schedule (at Iowa Western, home against Northeast and at Marshalltown).
”Chris is as talented as any freshman we’ve had, and we’ve had some pretty good ones over the years,” Plona said. “Chris can score the ball inside, which is a talent that is going away in basketball right now. It’s hard to find those guys you can throw the ball to 5-12 feet away from the basket and have them find a way to score. Chris can do that. He’s been coming on as of late. We could sense this coming.”
Payton showed a glimpse of making an impact in the IHCC-Southeastern rivalry during the first meeting between the teams this year. With the Blackhawks leading by six midway through the second half and Loren Walker Arena buzzing, Payton briefly quieted the home fans spinning to the basket and slamming home an emphatic dunk while being fouled.
It was the first of three consecutive field goals for Payton, helping Indian Hills get back in the game. Payton has scored 15 or more points in each of the past five games for the Warriors, all wins, and has been IHCC’s top scorer in two regional victories since that initial loss to the Blackhawks.
”You could tell that first practice after the first Southeastern game, Coach Plona definitely wanted to put an emphasis on getting the ball to me in a position to attack the basket,” Payton said. “We’ve got so many guys that can score from all over the court, but getting myself, Samba (Kane) and J.D. (Muila) when he gets back and healthy gives us a chance to be very dominant in the paint. Working the ball inside out also helps give our guards space to create, so it’s going to be great for all of us in the long run.”
Tyon Grant-Foster added 17 points, going 8-8 from the free throw line while committing just one turnover after being forced into eight by the Blackhawks 17 days earlier. Maurice Calloo scored 13 points, including four straight that helped ignite a 14-5 run for the Warriors, snapping a 45-45 tie and the final blow of the night with a breakaway dunk in the final seconds to cap IHCC’s 16-point victory.
”We didn’t have as many mental breakdowns as we did in the first game (with Southeastern),” Calloo said. “We stuck together and pulled out this win together.”
Chris Childs scored 10 points, sinking a 3-pointer in the final two minutes after IHCC narrowly avoided a turnover to open a 73-60 Warrior lead, while dishing out a team-leading five assists. Southeastern was paced by Elias Ezenekwe, who scored 17 points, while Aaris Bonds added 16 points and 13 rebounds helping the Blackhawks (19-6, 4-2 ICCAC) own a 36-26 rebounding edge in the contest.
”Rebounding is just a matter of will. I do think, in the last half of this game, it was pretty even. In the first three halves, Southeastern beat us up pretty good on the glass,” Plona said. “The rebounding really kept them in this game. I made it clear at halftime that, if we continued to get beat on the glass, we were going to lose. It seemed like 15 of their 33 points came thanks to offensive rebounding. We have to do a better job of that. Everybody needs to step up even in the tougher games. We have guys that are capable rebounders and I think that showed in the second half.”
Indian Hills (22-3, 4-1 ICCAC) is back home for non-conference action on Wednesday night against Moberly Area at 7 p.m. The Warriors edged the Grayhounds in Missouri, 72-63, back on Nov. 30.