NEW ALBANY — In a packed gymnasium at Christian Academy, Floyd Central and the host Warriors delivered an intense season opener. The Highlanders, ranked No. 18 in the preseason Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll, pulled out a 37-36 victory after the lead changed hands multiple times in the fourth quarter.
With his team trailing 33-32 with 2 1/2 minutes to go, CAI coach Steve Kerberg had his squad hold the ball for more than a minute, even imploring the raucous CAI student section to get loud before he instructed point guard T.J. Proctor to run a set play. The Warriors got what they wanted, a 3-pointer at the top of the key for Bailey Conrad, who drew a foul. The senior big man hit 2 of 3 at the stripe for a 34-33 CAI lead with 1 minute, 12 seconds to play.
Floyd Central answered. Jake Heidbreder's driving attempt wouldn't fall and freshman Caleb Washington's second-chance tip attempt caromed to Seth Burks, who converted the go-ahead bucket with 16.8 seconds to go. A Conrad turnover forced CAI to foul and Ben Purvis hit both free throws to put Floyd's advantage at 37-34.
CAI moved the ball against Floyd's zone defense without effectiveness, prompting Kerberg to use a timeout. Coming out of the stoppage, the Highlanders were in man-to-man defense and Proctor opted to take the quick drive for a layup with seven seconds to go. Grant Gohmann let several ticks of the clock go off before inbounding, and CAI was unable to foul before time expired.
"They zoned us the last three or four possessions," Kerberg said. "We had a zone option and a man option coming out of the timeout. I liked our other option better. I told T.J. if he could get the quick two, take the quick two, we just couldn't foul [in time]. There was plenty of time."
"There's moments at the end of every game where you have to take the game. We didn't do that in the end. Blocking out at the end of a game is something that has cost us the last three or four years," Kerberg added.
Christian Academy led by as many as four early in the second half behind a pair of Ethan Carrier 3-pointers. The Warriors were up 27-23 with 3:05 left in the third before Heidbreder hit two foul shots and Gohmann scored in the paint to tie it at 28. Heidbreder then hit a deep two-pointer to put the Highlanders ahead 30-28 going into the fourth.
A Conrad fadeaway and two Proctor foul shots put the Warriors back ahead with 6:30 remaining. Neither team scored for the next 2:50 before Gohmann converted with a jump hook on the right block for the first in a series of clutch plays for Floyd Central seniors.
"In a game where Jake was having a hard time getting free, those seniors really did a great job stepping up," Floyd coach Todd Sturgeon said.
Heidbreder led the Highlanders with 14 points while Gohmann added nine and Washington chipped in eight.
Proctor took game-high scoring honors with 16 and Conrad added 14.
Floyd Central was rolling in its first quarter of the season. Washington followed up Heidbreder's 3-pointer to put the Highlanders ahead 10-2 midway through the quarter. Later Heidbreder bounced a pass to Gohmann for a 16-5 edge in those first eight minutes.
Proctor and Bailey Conrad scored all 11 Christian Academy points in the second quarter as the Warriors climbed within 19-16 by the break.
After that first quarter, CAI held the Highlanders' offense in check. Heidbreder was held to six points after his eight-point first period.
"[They're a] talented and physical team, a tough senior team. Just perseverance and never giving up [got us the win]," Heidbreder said. "We've just got to trust each other and just keep trusting each other. I could handle better. They played really good on me, I have a lot of work to do and will get better throughout the season."
CAI had some empty possessions in crunch time that proved costly, but overall Kerberg liked what he saw from his team.
"I saw Floyd over the summer. I saw them play Male, the No. 1 team in Kentucky, and Floyd beat them. They're a really good team. For us to guard them the way we did, I was really proud of our guys. Really proud," Kerberg said.
It wasn't pretty but Sturgeon will take the victory and look forward to getting back to work in practice.
"First games are that way. You hope to find a way to win and move on," he said. "To come on the road, that team — that very well could be a single A Final Four team — on the road, it's loud, you can't hear anything, [it's] something you can't simulate in practice."
Floyd Central hits the road again Saturday at Evansville Harrison. Christian Academy, meanwhile, has some time off prior to a Dec. 7 game at New Washington.
"I'm proud of our team. There's no team I'd rather be on," Conrad said. "They worked hard. We saw some dogs in a lot of guys. We lost on some box outs. We had two offensive boards for [the Highlanders] the first half. The second half, we lost focus a little at the end and we can't do that. It's an early-season mistake and you can't do that."