By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Madison Central Indians showed Tuesday that they are still going to be a formidable opponent this season.
Behind double-doubles from the inside tandem of Demarcus George and Sam Jones and the outside play of senior Coty Alexander, the Indians pulled away in the second half to down Madison Southern 77-55 in the season opener for both teams.
“It’s a process. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” Central Coach Allen Feldhaus said after the game. “I’ve never had a group as excited to play a game as this bunch was. Cameron (Thomas) and Isaiah (Johnson) were too excited. But that is good. I would rather see them like that than not ready to play.”
The Indians simply dominated the backboards early, helping them to sprint out to a 20-5 lead after one quarter.
But in the second quarter, some questionable shot selection by the Indians — 29 percent shooting — aided an inspired Eagles squad led by the play of Tanner Kidwell. Southern methodically clawed its way back into the game, getting to within 32-25 at the half.
“We jump up 20-5 and then we had some of the wildest shots I’ve ever seen a team of mine take in my life,” Feldhaus said. “It was like everybody said, ‘OK, we’re up 20 points. I’m going to get my points.”
Early on, the large crowd seemed to bring out the nerves for both teams, neither of which had a starter on the floor from last season’s team.
But it was especially evident with the Eagles, who had five players score their first varsity points in the game.
“They killed us on the boards. They rebound the ball so well and we didn’t put a body on them like we should have. We kind of tried to jump with them and that wasn’t going to work,” Southern coach Shane Buttry said.
But once they settled down the Eagles began to hold their own with the Indians, which Buttry said pleased him.
“When it got up to 22 points I thought, “Lets see what we’re made of. Lets see if we fold up.’ I didn’t think they would. We’ve got a gritty bunch of kids. I’m as proud of them as I can be,” Buttry said. “Central is a good team. They are really good. They’ve got shooters, they’ve got a ball handler or two and they size. That is one of the better teams on our schedule and we had it to seven and had the ball in the third quarter.”
The second half, Madison Central went inside to Jones, which opened up the outside for Alexander, Kirk Humphrey and the other Indians’ shooters. They shot a red-hot 70 percent from the floor to extend the lead to 58-36 just before the quarter ended and they were never threatened.
Both teams got good play from their point guards. Alexander came off the bench to score a game-high 18 points and did just what he was asked to do, Feldhaus said.
“We brought Coty off the bench and I think he handled the role perfectly. I mean perfectly. He gave us that calming effect a senior should have and that was just what we needed,” Feldhaus said.
Meanwhile, Kidwell almost single-handedly got the Eagles back in the game in the second quarter, scoring 10 of his team-high 15 points when the Eagles needed it most.
“Tanner really played well. He’s really improved. He handled his emotions better than he usually does. He’s going to be a leader for us. He plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Buttry said.
Humphrey had a huge game, finishing with 16 points and four assists for the Indians. He jump-started the Central offense in the second half, scoring five of the Indian’s first nine third-quarter points.
George finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Indians, while Jones had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Johnson, a transfer for the Indians, had five points in his first game and Thomas had six points and seven rebounds.
Devante Linville was the only other Southern player in double figures, finishing with 12 points, including a trio of three pointers in the fourth quarter and Trevor Huff added nine points.
Despite the loss, Buttry said he liked what he saw from his young squad.
“There is no quit in these guys. I told them after the game that if they play this hard when there is and empty gym and there’s not all this enthusiasm in the building, think how good we can be in February,” he said. “I’m as proud of them as I can be. These freshmen and sophomores won’t be freshmen and sophomores in February. They’ll grow up. If we keep improving we are going to be very, very good.”
Central returns to action on Friday when they take on Lafayette at 7:30 p.m. in Lexington.
The Eagles also play again on Friday when they play host to McCreary Central in a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.