Warren Central has punched its ticket to Diddle Arena.
The Dragons, the top seed in the District 14 Tournament, used a big second half to earn a 70-56 win over fourth-seeded South Warren on Tuesday night in the semifinals, advance to Friday’s district championship game and earn a trip to next week’s Region 4 Tournament.
WCHS (23-6 overall) wasn’t at it best in the opening half and trailed 30-27 at halftime but bounced back with a strong second by outscoring the Spartans 43-26 to pull away.
“For us to just be down three at the half, I thought we was in a good spot for the way we played,” Warren Central coach Will Unseld said. “I just told them at halftime, ‘This is on y’all. We’ve got mostly seniors playing. Y’all gotta figure out what y’all want to to do.’ That was the end of the conversation.
“Big thing was Dre Boyd stayed out of foul trouble in the second half and he does what he does. Makes us really good when he plays that way.”
Boyd, who scored just four points in the first half, finished with a game-high 21 to lead the Dragons, while Kobe Brents scored 13, Tayton Smith tallied 12 and Geovonni Floyd added 10.
“I don’t know what it is – it’s just whenever we go into the locker room and coach says whatever he tells us, and the team is good at responding to it,” Boyd said of what changed for him in the second half. “He knows a lot about basketball, so we know he ain’t gonna tell us nothing that’s wrong.”
Caleb Mitchell-Franklin led South Warren, which finished its season 16-15 overall, with 18 points.
The two sides played a competitive opening half.
Smith made a 3-pointer at the 5:12 mark of the first quarter to make it 7-6 South Warren, and Brents later hit one to give the Dragons a 13-9 lead with 1:58 remaining in the period.
Central led 16-13 with 54.2 seconds left, but the Spartans scored four points in 46 seconds to close the frame and lead 17-16 after eight minutes of action.
Caden Veltkamp’s 3 put South up 20-18 at the 5:43 mark of the second, but Boyd and Floyd scored on back-to-back possessions to give Warren Central a 25-23 lead with 2:54 remaining in the half.
“I was just trying to support my team and keep the lead and stay in the game,” Boyd said. “That’s what they did. They came out and they played hard. They didn’t even need me in the first half, and we stayed in the game.”
The Spartans answered the Dragons’ spurt with a 6-0 run of their own – highlighted by a Jason Putnam three-point play – to go into halftime up 30-27.
Warren Central opened the third quarter in a big way, scoring 12 points to South Warren’s three to go up 39-33 at the 5:00 mark.
Mitchell-Franklin scored four straight to bring the Spartans within 41-37, but back-to-back Boyd buckets put the Dragons up 45-37 with 1:44 left in the quarter – and they soon led 50-40 entering the fourth.
South Warren trimmed its deficit to 53-46 at the 6:06 mark of the final quarter after back-to-back scores by Tayshaun Jones and Mitchell-Franklin, but a Boyd triple with 3:57 remaining made it 59-48 Dragons.
A pair of Tegra Muleka free throws – followed by a dunk by Floyd – put Warren Central up 65-54 and sealed it with just under two minutes left.
“Their numbers just overwhelm you,” South Warren coach Blane Embry said. “Our guys just fought so hard but just ran out of a little bit of gas and got in a little foul trouble. I’m just proud of this team – they really did a good job of following the game plan and we just didn’t quite have enough horses on this night.”
The Dragons will face the winner of No. 2 Bowling Green and No. 3 Greenwood at 6 p.m. Friday.
“That’s big,” Unseld said of the importance of moving on to both the title game and regional tournament. “That’s a big weight off your shoulders. This first game is always tough. It’s always tough. I told ‘em it was gonna be on their home floor – and they were playing really well late.
“To do what we did in the second half to ‘em was pretty good. That’s how we’ve been playing lately. Now we’ve gotta bottle that up and play that way the whole game from here on out.”
SWHS – 17 13 10 16 — 56
WCHS – 16 11 23 20 — 70