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Defense, gridiron mentality keys to Danville's success

Seventh-ranked Warriors gearing up for tough postseason bracket

A year ago at this time, Class 3A No. 7 Danville had seven losses, and had given up 60 or more points seven times. Currently at 14-4, opponents have reached that threshold just three times, and the Warriors are yielding six points fewer per game than last season.

“Any time you can limit the other team’s scoring opportunities and successful possessions, it gives you a leg up,” 19th-year Danville coach Brian Barber said. “We try to hold teams under 50 points every game, that’s our team goal, and we’re right there. We try to take three things away every game.”

With five senior football players – Alec Burton, Austin Cowart, Toby Hiland, Caden Thompson and Ben Stevens – foes are hard-pressed to out-physical Danville.

“I like football guys – they’re a little more aggressive and assertive a lot of the time,” Barber said. “They aren’t afraid to bang and mix things up, but you have to have skilled basketball players, too, and I think we have a good combination of both.”

Burton, a 6-6, 215-pounder who’ll play tight end at Ohio University, is an equally impressive force on the hardwood, with 17.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

“Seems like he’s a real nightmare for teams,” Barber said. “He can go inside and out, handles the ball for us, leads the break off rebounds, gets things in transition and can post up with his back to the basket. He’s hitting some 3s for us, too, and offensive rebounds, often a lost art these days. When he’s on, we’re really good.”

Cowart (7.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.1 apg), a Swiss Army Knife of a point guard, has missed most of the last month, first with a concussion and then an ankle injury.

“We hope to get him back this week,” Barber said. “With him out, guys have really had to step up.”

Among those to do so is 6-3 Connor Jones (13.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg).

“He’s a guy who can play all over the floor,” Barber said. “He can hit the deep shot, a really good driver to the basket, very good free throw shooter, a hard-nosed guy who can make the tough pass, great court instincts.”

Sam Comer (8.6 ppg), a 6-5 defensive stopper, often takes the opposition’s best offensive player, regardless of position.

“That’s a lot of energy and time he spends to take away their strengths,” Barber said. “He’s also hitting the shot, worked real hard in the offseason to improve there, much more confidence now.”

Fellow sophomore and 6-5 Dillon Ware grew two inches in the offseason, and his game grew as well.

“He’s playing inside some for us but can handle the ball, runs the break, gets us in our offense, a good shot-blocker, solid rebounder, just keeps getting better and better,” Barber said.

With four games left, Danville still has a shot at a share of the Sagamore Conference crown if rival and No. 6 Tri-West falters. The Warriors and Bruins are part of a challenging Sectional 28 that includes No. 12 Beech Grove and Manual.

“It’ll be a dogfight,” Barber said. “I’ll take the bye anytime. I’d rather try to win two games instead of three. Either way, hopefully we’re playing our best basketball at that point.”

These are exciting times for Danville basketball, as the girls team led by coach Kaley May will play in its second straight Final Four this coming weekend.

“Coach May’s done a great job with the program. The girls are excited, the town’s excited,” Barber said. “We packed the gym for the regional, and we’re still celebrating that one. They’re fun to watch, very gritty. They aren’t passive. They go out there to win it.”

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