By Justin Whitaker
BROWNSBURG — Games between rivals Avon and Brownsburg always feature tightly contested battles.
Last night’s boys’ basketball game between the two was no different.
The Avon Orioles prevailed over the host Brownsburg Bulldogs 54-51 after six lead changes and three ties.
Avon converted 9 of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter and shot 82 percent on the evening from the free-throw line.
“We did a great job of stepping up and making free throws,” Avon coach Jason Young said. “It seems like when you hit them early, the confidence kind of builds. Free-throw shooting hasn’t been a strength leading up to this game and it was huge for us to step up in a huge rivalry game on the road and make free throws.”
Brownsburg’s Kenneth Walton was fouled after he rebounded his own miss for a putback layup. Walton made the free throw to bring the Bulldogs to within a point at 47-48 with 2:09 remaining.
Avon’s offense took its time, waiting nearly a minute, before Levi Bailey was fouled. He drained both clutch free throws with 1:04 remaining.
Brownsburg trailed 47-50 on the ensuing possession when Walton fouled out of the game on a charge.
Carter VanWanzeele made two free throws with 38.4 remaining and Connor Funkhouser made two more with 24.9 seconds left to give Avon a 54-47 advantage.
With 13.5 seconds remaining, Brownsburg senior Martell Pope converted two free throws. After a Bulldog steal on the inbounds, Pope added a layup as time expired.
But it was too little, too late as Brownsburg had their chances.
“We fouled a little too much in the fourth quarter and we had a couple guys foul out,” Brownsburg coach Ronald Nored said. “We are pushing guys in the back and letting them get to the free throw line. We come down and get some charges, we just have to be more under control.”
VanWanzeele contributed a game-high 18 points and team-high six rebounds for the Orioles. The junior went 5 of 8 from the field, including 2 of 4 from the three-point line and 6 of 7 from the charity stripe.
“He’s obviously a shooter and I thought he did a much better job of setting up his cuts. Our guys did a good job of finding him and I’m really proud of the six rebounds he had,” Young said. “I thought he played hard, I thought he played physical. Him making shots doesn’t surprise anyone on staff, that kid can shoot the basketball. Glad to see him have a big night on a big stage.”
After two straight turnovers to start the game, Brownsburg righted the ship and pounced on Avon.
A 14-2 run, including two 3-pointers, helped give the Bulldogs a 19-10 advantage after the first quarter.
“I think we came out ready,” Nored said. “We were making shots early and we were really in the flow of things.”
There was no cohesiveness to the Oriole offense as they racked up six turnovers in the period.
“We had some turnovers and I didn’t think our transition defense was very good,” Young said. “The lead got to ten points and we could have easily bagged it.”
The second quarter was as polar opposite of the first quarter as possible for both teams. Avon found its offensive rhythm and Brownsburg could not buy a bucket.
The Orioles limited the Bulldogs to one field goal in the second quarter and outscored them 15-2.
“I’m sure Brownsburg felt they were one bucket away from running us out of the gym,” Young said. “We were finally able to get some stops, take better care of the basketball by not giving them extra possessions and once we got on a roll we played pretty well.”
Brownsburg turned the ball over five times and did not make its first basket until an acrobatic alley oop-layup from Trevor Lucas with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter.
“Between our turnovers and us rushing offensively, (Avon) was able to come down and get really comfortable and they were making shots,” Nored said.
Avon led 25-21 at halftime and the teams battled in the third quarter before the Orioles took a 40-34 advantage into the final quarter.
The 2-3 zone played by Avon yielded very few inside opportunities for the Bulldogs from the second quarter forward.
Nearly half of Brownsburg’s 51 shots were from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs connected on 6 of 24 from downtown.
“They were really good in the zone,” Nored said. “We got the ball inside a couple times and didn’t do a very good job of finishing. I didn’t think we attacked enough. We passed it around too much. If that happens again, we are going to have to be better at attacking.”
Coach Young was not expecting to use much zone against Brownsburg and was surprised of its effectiveness.
“We are not really a zone team, that’s not something we thought would work tonight,” Young said. “But we rotated well in the zone and I thought they ran some good stuff against the zone, had some good action by overloading some sides and got some threes and they didn’t go in.
“We did a great job of defending the dribble and also being in the gap on the ball. Stepping up and taking a couple charges early in the third quarter I thought really slowed them down a bit.”
Lucas led the Bulldogs with 13 points, Walton and junior Tyler Houston each had 11 points.
Senior Aaron Bode chipped in eight points and freshman Brandon Peters added seven points for the Orioles.