Floyd Central senior Cobie Barnes had the benefit of a solid senior class serving as the Highlanders' secondary options last season.
This season, Barnes would need someone else to step into that role. At times, the production outside of Barnes has been inconsistent. Barnes scored 27 of the Highlanders' 43 in the loss at Jeffersonville, for example.
But 6-foot-4 guard Jake Heidbreder has stepped into that integral role of Barnes' sidekick and, it's come in a big way in recent games. Going into tonight's key Hoosier Hills Conference battle against Bedford North Lawrence, Heidbreder is coming off consecutive career-high performances. He had 24 at Seymour and then 29 at Evansville Reitz for the 13-2 Highlanders.
"Last year, I had Luke Gohman as another person who could step up. Just having another person be able to step up, we lost all our scoring last year [is huge]," Barnes said. "He's kind of like I was. We're just always in the gym together. Last year, I took him under my wing. I'm not taking credit for it. He's a really smart player too."
Heidbreder credits just becoming more and more comfortable with his teammates — and with playing big varsity minutes.
"Just playing against many different types of players and teams helped me get confidence and learn to play with all my teammates," Heidbreder said after Wednesday's practice.
Floyd Central coach Todd Sturgeon said he knew Heidbreder's emergence as a big-time scorer was inevitable last season.
"There were signs of that last year. That was a constant source of discussion among the coaches the second half of the season: should we make the move to Jake now or are we going to wait until next year?'" Sturgeon said. "It was obvious — even to the seniors — he was always the best player on the scout team. We had many days last year where the first team had trouble because Jake was torching them."
Heidbreder scored 18 points in the first-half alone to start the season against Lawrence North, but he mostly put up scoring outputs in the 8- to 15-point range until these last few games.
"Teams guarded him a little bit and frankly, we weren't doing enough to help him. We've told him to be more aggressive. As coaches, we've tried to make a conscientious effort to get him more shots," said Sturgeon, who described his sophomore's skills. "He's a versatile offensive player. He's shooting over 50 percent from 3. He's quicker than you think, getting it from the 3-point line, one dribble and he's laying it in the goal. He's explosive like that off the dribble. He's got a nice mid-range guys. There aren't a lot of young, perimeter guys who can score at all three levels: take it to the rim, shoot pull-ups and the 3-point range."
Floyd Central will face another impressive guard tonight in Brayton Bailey, the junior son of BNL assistant coach Damon Bailey.
"Bailey is one of the handful of best players in the league," Sturgeon said. "He's got himself in conversation for the best player in the league. He's a guy that can get 25 points for ya. Usually if you play a guy to drive one way. You can know he's driving right and he can still get by you going right. He's a smart player with the ball in his hands. He's a terrific passer. He can drive it right to the block and dump it to a guy four feet away in traffic as well as anybody I can ever remember seeing.
BNL's most recent HHC game was a homecourt win against Jeffersonville that inserted the Stars into the foreground of the championship chase with a 4-1 record. Floyd Central has the opportunity to move ahead of the Stars. First-place Columbus East's 2-0 HHC mark will be in jeopardy when they get a visit from New Albany on Saturday.
GAME OF THE WEEK
BEDFORD NORTH LAWRENCE (10-7, 4-1) AT FLOYD CENTRAL (13-2, 3-1)
• TIME/DAY: 7:30 p.m., tonight
• LAST 30 YEARS: BNL leads 23-6. Floyd Central has won the past three meetings.
• LAST MEETING: The Highlanders improved to 23-1 in a 76-35 sectional victory at Seymour last season. Floyd Central shot 75 percent, going 30 for 40 from the field, and placed three players in double figures, led by Cobie Barnes' 26 points, in their 16th consecutive win.
• REASON TO WATCH: With a win, Floyd Central could return to favorite status in its quest to repeat as Hoosier Hills Conference champions.
• JOHNHARRELL.NET PREDICTION: Floyd Central 61-51.
• SAGARIN PROJECTION: Floyd Central by six.
• CRAIG'S PICK: Floyd Central 64, Bedford North Lawrence 57.
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH
• Jeffersonville (9-5) at Louisville Moore, 7 p.m.: The Red Devils look to end a recent slump and get back on track. Jeff won last year's meeting in a rout, 90-47.
• Shawe Memorial (3-12) at Christian Academy (10-7), 6 p.m.: Former Jeffersonville and IU standout Sherron Wilkerson leads Shawe Memorial into Floyd County in his first season at Shawe against a Christian Academy squad getting back to full health with the return of 6-foot-8 Bailey Conrad. Christian Academy leads the series 15-11.
• Silver Creek (14-3) at Salem (11-5), 7:30 p.m.: Silver Creek looks to rebound from a tough loss to Bloomington South against a solid Salem squad. We expect them to do so in convincing fashion.
• South Central (Elizabeth) (8-7) at Providence (7-11), 7:30 p.m.: Last year's game was a 37-36 thriller in favor of the Pioneers. South Central is playing solid basketball, coming off a 60-23 victory against Shawe Memorial.
• New Albany (10-6) at Columbus East (5-7), 2 p.m.: New Albany has an opportunity to improve to 3-2 in the HHC while giving Columbus East its first conference loss. The Bulldogs are coming off one of the best defensive performances in program history in a 53-20 victory at Jasper.
• Spencer County (Ky.) at Rock Creek Academy (6-14), 1:30 p.m.: Rock Creek, coming off a 72-56 win against Louisville Brown, won last year's meeting 77-68.
• Springs Valley (13-5) at Borden (3-14), 12:30 p.m.: Springs Valley is having an outstanding season but is coming off a 55-43 loss to a tough Tell City squad. Borden leads the all-time series 9-2.