BOUNCE: Wayne leading the way as some new blood crashes party at top of SAC

Wayne senior Monte Smith Jr. looks for help out of a double team as Generals coach Byron Pickens looks during Tuesday’s game at Homestead (Photo by Leslie Palmer)

As Homestead and Wayne traded buckets and blows down the stretch and into overtime on Tuesday night, Bounce found himself adopting a rooting interest.

Sure, the frog is a fan of every team and player in northeast Indiana, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t lean one way or the other sometimes.

In most instances, Bounce is rooting for a story. The same teams winning conference and postseason titles gets boring. Writing about them grows tedious. And fans of those squads? Well, they start taking victories for granted.

On Tuesday we had Homestead – winners of the SAC four times since joining the league seven years ago – looking to stay undefeated in the conference and reinforce its status as the favorite.

On the other side, we had Wayne – a program chasing its first SAC crown since 2000, an upstart group under Coach Byron Pickens that went (extremely) young last year and finished with a mere four dubs.

So pardon my bias when Wayne’s Jevon Lewis drove the lane and dropped a bucket with just over four seconds left that proved to be the winning points in the Generals’ 66-62 overtime win. It propelled Wayne (14-4) into a commanding position in the league – tied atop the standings with the Spartans and Concordia Lutheran at 6-1 with the tiebreaker over Homestead and a date with the Cadets looming on Feb. 17.

It’s not that Bounce has anything against Homestead. Coach Chris Johnson is one of the best coaches in the entire state. The Spartans (15-5) grind like no other. They don’t have a stud on the squad, merely a bunch of blue-collar guys that go to work.

But on Tuesday, the work was done by Wayne down the stretch. Homestead never really had an answer for the dribble drive. Lewis’ game-winning bucket was the final nail in the coffin for the Spartans on a night where they couldn’t stop the ball, and it cost them the game. The Generals were able to force close to 20 turnovers on the game with their aggressive style, all while battling foul trouble with Preston Comer and Ziare Sullivan relegated to the bench at key moments in the second half.

In a world of transfers and impatient kids and parents, what Pickens has constructed at Wayne is impressive. Five of his top six scorers are underclassmen, all guys who were thrown into the fire last year as the Generals went young and took their lumps. Guys like Lewis, Chase Barnes and HJ Dillard all put in the work for a team that lost 18 games last season and instead of looking to go elsewhere, stayed at Wayne, continued to buy in to Pickens and the program and are all big parts of this 14-4 team.

At this point in the season in the SAC, we are typically talking certain mainstays battling it out for the league crown. Homestead, Carroll, Snider, North Side – four teams that over the last decade have a combined 12 outright or shared conference championships.

Wayne? A program that is on a 23-year drought in terms of winning the league. Even with those very good Generals teams in the late 2010s under Coach Aaron Rehrer, a conference championship was elusive.

Concordia? Not since 2013 has the Cadets won a share of the SAC.

Much is still to be determined over the final few weeks of the regular season. Concordia (13-4) has to play Homestead (this Friday) before it even starts thinking about Wayne. The Generals cannot afford a letdown at South Side, a squad that has a win over a 10-win Marion team on the road and lost by just six to the Cadets.

But overall, it’s refreshing to see some new blood at the apex of the SAC for a change. Much love Homestead and others, but it hits different when there are success stories on the hardwood elsewhere in the city.

These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH

Wayne’s Monte Smith Jr. goes for the block of Homestead’s Will Jamison during Tuesday’s game at Homestead. (Photo by Leslie Palmer)

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