While Central Noble junior Connor Essegian and Churubusco senior Landen Jordan play significantly different roles for their respective teams, understating the importance of those roles stands as an impossibility. In separate ways, Essegian and Jordan present absolute matchup nightmares for opponents.
Though the schedule guaranteed only one contest, the Cougars and Eagles enjoyed success enough to bring about three epic battles last season. All signs point to a similar fate this season, with Northeast Corner Conference Tournament and IHSAA sectional trophies potentially hanging in the balance.
“Neither team gives in, both teams are super competitive,” Central Noble coach John Bodey said. “Both teams just like to beat each other. It's one of those good old-fashioned rivalries that make Indiana high school basketball fun. The two communities like to beat each other, and it's a pretty emotional night when we play them. I expect this year to be fun, intense, emotional nights this year too.”
Essegian, a 6-foot-4 guard, enrolled in the Central Noble school district before his freshman year, immediately stepping into prominence. As a sophomore, Essegian joined the 1,000-point club while also becoming the first ever player from Noble County to score more than 600 points in a season.
Essegian's improving overall skills (he led the Cougars in points, rebounds and steals) give Churubusco coach Chris Paul fits, as evidenced by Central Noble's 63-57 victory in the NECC Tournament semifinals last season.
“Connor's arguably one of the best shooters in the state, and you just can't leave him open,” Paul said. “One of the things we've tried to do when we've played them is to make him absolutely work to get anything, to the point where we'd leave other people open. He has the ability to hit four or five straight (shots), and the next thing you know they're on a 12-0, 15-0 run.
“I just think he makes everybody else better. If you have to pay so much attention to him, other guys get really good looks.”
After playing AAU basketball with now-teammate Jackson Paul for several years, Jordan transferred to Churubusco as a sophomore and sat out the IHSAA-mandated calendar year before earning his eligibility and immediately making his presence felt.
The Eagles went 15-2 in Jordan's 17 games last season, ending the season on a 10-game win streak bookended by victories over the Cougars. The regular-season matchup on Jan. 31 propelled Churubusco into the NECC title race, and the Eagles ultimately won the regular season championship by going 10-1.
The schools also met for a sectional championship, with the Eagles claiming a 54-49 triumph before seeing COVID-19 halt the postseason prior to regionals. Jordan's lean, muscular 6-9 frame gives the Eagles a tremendous finisher in the post offensively and perhaps the NECC's most intimidating interior defender.
“He's very good around the rim, both offensively and defensively,” Bodey said. “He can change our shots around the basket, and he can get in people's heads. Sometimes they'll put him on top of their 1-2-2 (zone defense).
“I think you just try to get your kids to not shy away from the challenge, go in there smartly and challenge him. You can't shy away from the challenge, and you have to do the things you need to do to try to get into his body. You have to know that if you want to play him for 32 minutes, you have to make him go for 32 minutes.”
5 players to watch
Sawyer Yoder, senior, Central Noble: The 6-foot-2 senior averaged 15.9 points and 3.3 assists as Central Noble won a school-record 22 games in 2019-20.
Austin Cripe, sophomore, West Noble: The 6-2 point guard started all 23 games as a freshman for the Chargers, finishing second on the team in scoring (9.8).
Gabe Trevino, junior, Eastside: In 2019-20, he led the Blazers in points (11.1), rebounds (6.8) and assists (2.9).
Connor Essegian, junior, Central Noble: As a sophomore, the 6-4 guard became the first-ever high school player from Noble County to score more than 600 points in a single season.
Luke McClure, senior, Churubusco: An All-NECC performer last season, the 6-foot guard contributed 9.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.6 steals per game for the regular-season conference champs.