The Centerville High School boys basketball team needed a few minutes to adjust to the atmosphere in front of a packed house at Springfield on Saturday night.
Once they got rolling, the Elks proved just how strong they can be against one of their biggest rivals.
Centerville freshman Gabe Cupps had a career-high 22 points and senior big man Mo Njie added 14 as the Elks overcame an early deficit to beat Springfield 52-36 in Greater Western Ohio Conference American Division action.
Centerville improved to 6-7 and 5-1 in the division. After starting the season 2-6 against an extremely tough schedule, the Elks have won four of their last six games.
The Wildcats led 24-17 with two minutes remaining in the first half, but the Elks stormed back with a 9-0 run to take a 26-24 lead into the break.
“Our guys did a great job of maintaining their composure,” said Centerville coach Brook Cupps. “It was a tough environment, it always is when you play here. They’re physical. In the first quarter we got a little bit rattled, our young guys kind of got their feet under them and they decided to start competing and playing. I was proud of the way they competed and executed in the second half.”
In the third quarter, Njie blocked multiple Springfield shots that kept the Wildcats from entering the paint.
“He’s a high-level defensive guy,” Brook Cupps said. “He’s so good at changing shots around the basket, whether he blocks it or not, he changes everything.”
The Wildcats were held to 12 points in the second half, making three field goals. Springfield fell to 4-6 and 2-3 in the division.
“We stopped playing Wildcat basketball,” said Springfield coach Isaiah Carson. “We stopped running our system, we stopped getting stops (defensively). We were still in the ball game, but we just kind of abandoned what we do. We kind of went one-on-one and freestyled. That’s kind of been the story of the season.”
Centerville’s Gabe Cupps hit two key 3-pointers in the second half and went a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line in front of a large group of family and friends from Champaign County. Brook Cupps played and coached at Graham before taking the job at Centerville.
“I thought Gabe was soft in the first quarter,” Brook Cupps said. “He got to the rim a couple times, but I felt like he wasn’t really competing and letting it go. I talked to him a little bit on the bench and I thought he responded and was really good the rest of the time.”
Both teams face a tough stretch in the next few weeks.
Centerville has four straight road games, including a matchup against Arizona Compass Prep School at the Flyin’ to the Hoop Invitational on Jan. 19. The Elks travel to Springboro on Friday.
“We’re really only worried about us and getting better every day,” Brook Cupps said.
The Wildcats travel to defending Division II state champion Trotwood-Madison on Friday. Springfield also has an intriguing matchup at the Flyin’ to the Hoop. The Wildcats play Spire Prep Academy on Jan. 20, whose roster includes former Springfield alum and Toledo recruit Ra’Heim Moss.
“We’ve just got to do a better job of trusting the system and locking in,” Carson said. “It’s as simple as that.”
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