MONROVIA -- Greencastle's boys basketball team was halfway to taking the West Central Conference championship Monday, then the bottom fell out and it was gone. Monrovia captured the conference title with a 60-49 victory at Branch McCracken Memorial Gym.
It was a stunning reversal of fortune. The Tiger Cubs (9-6, 4-1 WCC) had played brilliantly in the first half, taking a 31-16 lead.
The Bulldogs (8-8, 5-0 WCC) changed game plans in the locker room, deciding to play man-to-man defense. Fearful of what 6-foot-7 Nick Hutcheson could do inside against a team whose tallest starter was 6-foot-1, Monrovia had used a zone to double and triple team the outstanding Greencastle center.
Tiger Cubs' guard Hayden Stuckwisch took advantage of open looks on the perimeter to bury all four of his 3-pointers and ended the first half with 14 points.
Hutcheson picked up his second foul early in the second quarter and didn't return. Greencastle continued to play well without him, stretching the lead with a 10-2 run to close out the half.
Monrovia went on a 15-0 run to open the third period to tie the game. Greencastle retained the lead, 35-31, on baskets by Keith Carr and Hutcheson. It was a blip in Monrovia's momentum. The Bulldogs scored the next 14 points for a 45-35 lead. The Tiger Cubs never got closer than five points after that.
"Monrovia ratcheted up the pressure and made some quick baskets at the start of the second half," Greencastle coach Troy Greenlee said. "Maybe we had a mental letdown and the guys thought they had it won at halftime. If you don't come out and take it to your opponent in the second half, it's going to be a long night and that's what happened.
"I thought we played out of control in the second half. We lost our poise in the first couple of minutes and never got it back. We played how they (Monrovia) wanted us to play. They started pressuring us and we didn't handle it."
Greencastle had 24 turnovers, 14 in the second half. Monrovia was able to transition many of them into open-court opportunities that became lay-ups and medium-range jump shots.
"We decided to attack the post (offensively) and our kids played their rear ends off defensively in the second half," Monrovia coach Chris Sampson said.
Monrovia heated up from the field in the second half. Forward Grant Benefiel made all three of his 3-pointers, and converted one into a rare four-point play, and had 12 of his 16 points in the Bulldogs' 27-point third quarter. Zach Sowers, a 6-foot-1 center, used his quickness and mobility to score 21 of his career-high 27 points in the second half.
Monrovia was able to get to the free throw line with regularity in the second half, making 13-of-17. The Bulldogs were 17-of-21 (80.9 percent) and Sowers was 11-of-11 for the game.
Greencastle shot only nine free throws, making five.
Hutcheson ended with 12 points, six in each half. He averages 22 and shoots 60 percent from the field. But with 6-foot Austin Sichting and his helpful teammates guarding him in the second half, Hutcheson was 2-of-7 from the field and 2-of-4 at the foul line.
"Monrovia played physical on us," Greenlee said. "They bodied up. I told our big guys 'Don't bring the ball down, they're going to go after it.'"
Monrovia's man defense also took away Greencastle's open shots on the perimeter. Stuckwisch went scoreless in the second half.
Senior Tyler Lewis was outstanding for the Tiger Cubs. The 6-foot-4 swingman had 15 points and eight rebounds. He was consistently good; seven points in the first half, eight in the second.
Greencastle was attempting to win its first conference title outright since 1986.
"It's disappointing after we played so well in the first half," Greenlee said.
Greencastle plays Northview tonight at the McAnally Center.
Greencastle 12 19 4 14 -- 49
Monrovia 8 8 27 17 60
GREENCASTLE (9-6, 4-1 WCC)
Hutcheson 5-10 0-1 12, Lewis 6-13 3-5 15, Moore 0-3 0-0 0, Haussin 2-7 0-0 4, Stuckwisch 5-12 0-0 14, Hennette 1-3 0-0 2, Carr 1-1 0-0 2, Totals 20-49 5-9 49.
MONROVIA (8-8, 5-0 WCC)
Benefiel 6-13 1-1 16, Sichting 1-5 2-3 4, Sowers 8-16 11-11 27, Michel 0-3 0-2 0, McCleerey 5-9 1-2 11, Bolton 0-1 2-2 2, Gray 0-2 0-0 0, Welty 0-0 0-0 0, Fite 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 20-49 17-21 60.
3-point field goals: G 4-13 (Stuckwisch 4-6, Hutcheson 0-1, Lewis 0-1, Moore 0-2, Haussin 0-3), M 3-10 (Benefiel 3-5, Bolton 0-1, Gray 0-2, Sowers 0-2). Rebounds: G 38 (Hutcheson 11, Lewis 8), M 25 (Sowers 5, McCleerey 5). Turnovers: G 24, M 13. Total fouls: G 16, M 15. Fouled out: None.