ELKHART — Elkhart Central did defeat Elkhart Memorial the last time the two teams played, but frankly, senior Cornell Conner knew that game, played last December and called a holiday showcase, didn't matter nearly as much.
What mattered was the one Friday night, the one that again drew about 4,000 fans, the annual matchup for the coveted John Longfellow Trophy.
"It's a way bigger game (than the holiday event)," Conner said after the Blazers roared to a 25-point lead by the opening minute of the fourth quarter, then held off a Crimson Charger rally for a 62-57 victory at rocking North Side Gym. "We just wanted to come out and make our fans happy and get a win."
Conner contributed game highs of 22 points and 15 rebounds as Central (2-0) took the Longfellow for the first time in six years, breaking its longest-ever such dry spell against Memorial.
"It feels so good," Conner said. "I knew we'd lost like five straight, and it was just time to stop that streak. To see that trophy back at Central, that's good."
Junior Deveon Jackson — an ex-Memorial student who was on the Charger JV squad briefly a year ago — added 14 points, nine rebounds and, like Conner, an electric dunk to the Blazers' cause. Senior Adonis Brown chipped in 11 points, seven boards and four assists.
Senior Joe Smith paced Memorial (1-2) with 17 points and seven rebounds. Jose Soto added 13 points and a game-high three steals, while fellow junior Ga'Various Crawford tallied 11 points off the bench.
An offensive-rebound basket by Conner put Central up 52-27 to start the final quarter, but the Blazers went on to cough up eight turnovers and make just 6-of-14 free throws the rest of the way while Memorial scrambled to within relative striking range with 30 points in the period.
"I looked up at the clock with like three minutes to go, and I had a feeling it was going to be the longest three minutes in the world, and it was," first-year Central coach Terry Smith said. "We couldn't make a free throw and we didn't really handle the ball well against their pressure, and Memorial was loose and bombing, and it just snowballed a little bit.
"But you know what, I'm glad we had done enough to build ourselves a big enough cushion."
"Absolutely, our guys are going to keep fighting, and I couldn't be prouder of them for that part," Charger coach Kyle Sears said. "To not give in and come storming back, we had a chance, but we missed a couple shots to get a little closer."
The closest Memorial got was the final score, and that came on a 3-pointer at the horn.
The Blazers built their seemingly comfortable spread in large part by dominating the glass, especially during the second quarter, when they scored 14 of their 17 points via multi-chance opportunities.
Central finished the game with a 44-29 rebounding advantage and a whopping 24-7 advantage on those multi-chance points.
"The rebounding definitely hurt us quite a bit," Sears said, "and we really struggled to shoot it (finishing 18-of-57 from the field), but I've got guys that can shoot, and we're going to learn from tonight, that's the important thing."
"Cornell played a great game, and with a lot of pressure on him," Smith said. "Adonis has to do so much for us, and Deveon played really well, but our other guys, too. For our second game, and first on this court, I'm happy."
ELKHART CENTRAL 62, ELKHART MEMORIAL 57
Memorial: Latell Washington 0-2 0-0 0, Iyan Jennings 1-7 0-0 3, Hank Smith 2-11 0-0 5, Joe Smith 6-14 3-4 17, Jose Soto 3-11 5-5 13, Tryston Swartz 3-3 2-3 8, Ga'Various Crawford 3-8 3-6 11, Keldon Warrell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-57 (.316) 13-18 (.722) 57.
Central: Cornell Conner 9-14 2-4 22, Deveon Jackson 7-11 0-2 14, Michael Boone 1-2 0-0 2, JT Webb 0-5 1-2 1, Adonis Brown 2-7 5-12 11, Tyrese Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Desmond Johnson 1-1 1-2 4, Kenyatta Young 3-4 0-0 7, Andrewe Salmon 0-0 1-4 1, Amarion Bartlett 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-48 (.479) 10-26 (.385) 62.
Scoring By Quarters
3-point goals: Memorial (8-29) - Crawford 2-4, Soto 2-5, J. Smith 2-9, Jennings 1-3, H. Smith 1-8; Central (6-14) - Conner 2-3, Brown 2-4, Johnson 1-1, Young 1-2.
Rebounds: Memorial (29) - J. Smith 7, Soto 5; Central (44) - Conner 15, Jackson 9, Brown 7.
Assists: Memorial (8) - H. Smith 3; Central (12) - Webb 4, Brown 4.
Steals: Memorial (10) - Soto 3, J. Smith 2, Crawford 2; Central (5) - Webb 2.
Turnovers: Memorial 14; Central 18.
Fouls: Memorial 21; Central 19. Fouled out - Webb (0:31, 4th quarter).
Records: Memorial 1-2, Central 2-0.
JV score: Memorial 41, Central 38. Top scorers: Memorial - Brandon Bailey 15; Central - Brycen Sherwood 8, Keyshon Thomas 8. JV records: Memorial 1-2, Central 0-2.