Teams are scoring only 51.4 points against Madison Central, the lowest mark against any of the top boys’ teams in the 11th Region. The Indians’ man-to-man defense is as intense as in years prior, but in recent seasons the perimeter has had a safety valve in the middle, to boot.
Six-foot-seven junior Isaiah Cozart has a 7-2 wingspan and doesn’t shy from using it. Last season he demolished the KHSAA’s single-season record for blocks — he had 216, which was 26 more than Graves County star Chris Vogt had in his record-setting senior campaign in 2016 — and could potentially break his own record this season (he’s up to 176 after the Indians’ 72-71 overtime win at South Laurel on Monday).
Cozart will almost certainly end his high school career as the state’s all-time career blocks leader. He’s at 506 total, making it not inconceivable that he could break it this season; Paintsville star J.R. VanHoose set the record of 541 as a senior in 1998.
“I’m smart enough to realize that when you’ve got somebody who can block shots ... it makes your defense a lot better,” Indians head coach Allen Feldhaus said. “It allows your guys to put a little bit more pressure on the ball because they’re like, ‘Well, if I get beat, I’ve got a pretty good eraser back there.’”
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Cozart’s most impressive all-around performance this season came in a 76-50 rout of No. 5 Ballard: 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks. He regularly finishes with double-digit block totals but even more notable is the quality of Cozart’s blocks; seldom do they sail out of bounds. Instead, the ball comes off his finger tips and stays in bounds, often ending up in his own hands and creating a new possession for the Indians.
Shot-blocking came naturally for Cozart in middle school but he often would swat the ball into the stands or foul players with his follow through. “That’s the only thing I really knew how to do when I first played basketball, Cozart said, “but over time I realized that blocking straight up more (was better).”
The 2019 Mr. Basketball challenger is being recruited by multiple mid-major programs, among them Butler, Belmont, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and Winthrop.
“A lot of your shot-blockers, they swat and it goes out of bounds. Isaiah never does (that). I’ve never seen a kid that has a knack for blocking shots the way he can,” Feldhaus said. “He’s got long arms and great timing, and is just a junior. That’s the best part.”
There’s not another team in central Kentucky, and maybe the whole state, that has as intimidating a defensive post presence as Madison Central.
“Isaiah just blocks those first couple and people are like, ‘What are we gonna do? We can’t score inside.’ And they’re not, as long as we can keep him around the basket,” Feldhaus said. “It’s gonna be a struggle. They’re gonna have to earn it if they make it.’”
Madison Central in the early part of January did not have a résumé that loudly screamed “11th Region favorite.” What a difference a month makes.
In that time, Madison Central has picked up signature wins over Trinity (then No. 1 in the state), Ballard (one of the Bruins’ worst in-state losses ever under head coach Chris Renner) and Lexington Catholic (a rare running-clock shellacking for the Knights on their home court). Since a 71-54 loss at Scott County — the defending 11th Region champ which hasn’t lost to a Kentucky opponent all year — the Indians have gone 9-1, the only loss coming via a buzzer-beating three-pointer at Henry Clay (ranked 17th, by the way). The average margin of victory in that stretch was 25.1 points.
Madison Central is no dark horse; it was ranked fourth in the 11th Region preseason coaches’ vote and 18th overall in the state. But after a string of losses against top-25 foes in the early part of the year, along with the emergence of Bryan Station and Lafayette as legitimate challengers in the region, it was easy for the Indians to fall off some radars.
They’re a big blip on everyone’s now: the Indians are ranked second in the latest edition of Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State, becoming the first program in the region this season to leap Scott County in the rankings.
“I’ve just got a bunch of seniors that have been in the program a long time and I like where they’re going, and I like their focus,” Feldhaus said after the Indians’ win last week at Lexington Catholic. “That’s the key, to not get complacent because, I want ’em to enjoy it cause this don’t happen very often, but then you go home and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, you’re all good, you’re all good.’ They’ve got to stay level-headed.”
Senior Dustin Geralds leads the Indians with 16 points per game on 55.9-percent shooting, and along with Cozart averages 10 rebounds a night. Isaiah Minter, another senior, averages 12.5 points on 48.3 percent shooting, including a 40.9 percent mark from long distance. Cozart rounds out the leading scorers at 13 points per game.
The Indians are balanced offensively, play energetic defense and have a superstar in the middle. They still have work to do, though, if they’re going to make a run in the 11th Region Tournament.
“There’s one team that’s ahead of everybody, and that’s Scott County. ... They are more physical than us. They’re stronger. If you take Isaiah away from us, we’re little. We’ve got to have fight, and that’s what we’ve been preaching the last two weeks,” Feldhaus said. “If you want to win the region, you’ve got to go through them. ...
“What are we going to do to close that gap? I’ve noticed some strides.”
(Records entering Tuesday)
Who: No. 1 Covington Catholic (24-4) at No. 2 Madison Central (22-6)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Boys’ 44th District Tournament
At Eastern Kentucky University
Monday, Feb. 19
Madison Southern vs. Model, 7:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 20
Madison Central vs. Berea, 7:45 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 23
Championship game, 7:45 p.m.