EMMA — Churubusco’s boys basketball team defied the odds and defended its sectional title at Westview — beating three Northeast Corner Conference opponents on its way to the trophy.
The Eagles cruised to a lopsided, 89-45, win over Prairie Heights in the opener, while top ranked Central Noble and Westview battled it out in the other opening round game.
The Eagles have only had four losses on the season, and three of those came from Westview and Central Noble.
“We knew we were going to play one of those teams. Westview had already beaten us and Central Noble beat us twice,” Churubusco head coach Chris Paul said. “We wanted to play them again because they beat us, and we knew it would be a battle.”
The Cougars were ranked third in the state with their 24-1 record — their lone loss coming from Westview, which was also ranked higher than ’Busco in the Associated Press poll.
With the odds stacked against them, the Eagles pulled out a 45-40 victory over Central Noble, as Paul changed up the game plan, which the boys executed perfectly.
“That might have been the most complete defensive game I have coached in my 26 years,” Paul said. “They didn’t take a defensive play off.”
Paul said his players didn’t feel like they had their best performances against Central Noble in the previous encounters.
“I’m not saying Central Noble didn’t outplay us in those games, I just don’t feel like we played hard enough,” Paul said.
That intensity on Friday wore out the players, which left Paul a little concerned about their ability to perform in the title game against Eastside.
“I had some guys who were absolutely exhausted, and I was a little worried,” Paul said. “But they grinded and found a way to win another one.
“Sectional games are never going to be easy — not when we have these conference opponents.”
Though Churubusco had just beaten Eastside a week prior, the Blazers put up a good fight, keeping the score within reach for the entire game.
“Eastside has won 17 games this year, they’re a good team,” Paul said.
Rather than their typical fast-paced play, the Eagles slowed the ball down to conserve energy, particularly at the end of the third quarter and through the fourth.
“In my life I have never held the ball for a minute and a half, but we had some guys who were really tired — I used it as a timeout,” Paul said. “We were up six going into the fourth, and I told them we just needed to milk it. We don’t need to score anymore, we just need to win.”
Last season’s sectional was just prior to the March 13 total shutdown due to COVID-19, and the Eagles never got the chance to play in the regional.
“We get to do this for the guys who didn’t get the chance to play last year,” Paul said. “We had a really special group last year. Obviously the world was going through a really difficult time, but I felt bad for the guys because it just ended. Some of them I never saw again until June.”
More important than the regional game, perhaps, is the week leading up to it.
“Being together — team meals, going down for practice, staying in a hotel the night before. Yes, you’re going down win, but that’s a week they’ll never forget, and I’m really looking forward to it this year.”
With the win, Paul notched his third sectional championship in five years. The school’s only boys basketball sectional titles in the history of the program.
“It’s humbling,” Paul said. “Five years ago Coach (Paul) Sade gave me the opportunity to come over here.”
Paul’s son, Jalen, was able to come to Churubusco for his senior year, and Jackson is a senior on this year’s squad.
“To be able to coach Jalen and win one — I didn’t think it would happen again. Then to be able to get two with Jackson and have Jalen on the sideline with me — things happen for a reason. Things just fall into place.”
Jalen is a senior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and his season was canceled due to the pandemic.
“When it first happened, it was upset because it was unfortunate losing my senior year,” Jalen said. “But then I had the ability to come home to my family and be a part of this.”
Jalen said he appreciates his father allowing him to be on the coaching staff, along with his grandfather, Bruce Patterson.
“To have a full year where every day I get to be with my grandpa, my brother and my dad in the gym — you can’t beat that,” Paul said.
The Eagles are preparing to face Blackhawk Christian at North Judson in the semi-final on Saturday.