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Marion County champ, top-ranked Warren Central keeps rolling

Warriors face No. 14 Center Grove Thursday night

When a program graduates an Indiana All-Star like Mack Smith – who earned Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Week at Eastern Illinois last week – you typically expect a dip in team performance, at least at the start of a new season.


For multiple reasons, with Class 4A No. 1 Warren Central – which improved to 18-0 with a triple-overtime win on Tuesday over No. 11 Zionsville – that didn’t occur this season.


“We have more scorers this year. We’ve had four or five guys lead us in points,” said third-year Warren coach Criss Beyers. “I think our defense is also a little bit better this year, and we have some guys who can help us off the bench. There’s more depth.”


The stats confirm Beyers’ analysis of Warren’s defense. At 47.6 points per game, they’re giving up 4.5 fewer than last season. That prowess was on display during the Warriors’ run to the program’s first Marion County tourney title in 18 years, as they held Lawrence Central, Pike, Lawrence North and defending state champ Ben Davis to an average of 45.5 points.


“That tournament showed that all the hard work they’ve put in, and everything they’ve put into this season so far, is paying off,” Beyers said. “I think it was really good for them to see that.”


JV players a year ago, 6-5 junior forward Jesse Bingham (team-high 12.4 ppg) and 6-6 junior forward Jakobie Robinson (8.8 ppg, 6.7 rebounds per game) are now difference-makers.


“They worked hard at their game, got stronger, their skills are better,” Beyers said. “They put the time in and were ready to step in.”


Like Bingham and Robinson, 5-8 senior guard Antwaan Cushingberry (8.9 ppg) and 6-foot senior guard Joe Rush (6.8 ppg) have stepped up in their first full varsity campaign.


The old guard is led by pair of football standouts in 6-3 junior guard David Bell (12.0 ppg) and 5-8 senior guard Dean Tate (9.8 ppg), who don’t miss a beat when going from the gridiron to the hardwood.


“They are competitors. They play very hard, don’t want to lose. That carries right over,” Beyers said. “They’ve been very good examples and role models for our younger kids.”


After going 10-12 in Beyers’ first season, Warren went 21-3 last year. Still unbeaten with seven games left in the regular season, and one game up on Carmel for the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference crown, the team’s confidence continues to grow.


“That first year, we lost eight games by six points or less. Last year we won those games, and this year we're winning those games,” Beyers said. “We’ve tried to instill in them – we don’t hope to win, we expect to win.”


With opening-round sectional defeats the past two seasons, the next step for the program is a deep postseason run.


“We talked all summer and fall, that it’s good to have these accomplishments, but the goal has to be the state championship,” Beyers said. “Nothing short of that is acceptable.”

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