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It shouldn’t be a surprise the hottest two teams are meeting in the Boys’ 17th District Basketball Tournament championship. The John Hardin Bulldogs are riding a 16-game winning streak, while the North Hardin Trojans have won eight straight.
Now, both have the same agenda — win tonight’s district final at 6:30 to help get a better draw in the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament, which opens Monday night at Hart County High School.
“I think it’s important,” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “You want to win and keep playing well, but you can put yourself in a better position. There is the luck of the draw, but you can help yourself. I’ve seen it work both ways.”
Two years ago, the Bulldogs lost the district final and then fell in the first round of the region tournament. They won the district championship last season and went on to claim the region title.
North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said going into the region tournament as a district runner-up isn’t the end of the world. Of North Hardin’s 12 region titles, twice the Trojans did it after finishing as the district runner-up.
“You want to win for the sake of winning,” Bevars said. “It does happen that a district runner-up wins the region.”
The Trojans haven’t lost since a 63-52 setback to John Hardin on Jan. 18. They have scored 80 or more points in three of their last four victories, and they’ve held seven of their last eight opponents to 60 or fewer points.
“You want to be playing your best at the end of the year and we’re playing our best basketball,” Bevars said. “I think the big thing was we had to learn to play together. Khalil (Rasheed), Tyronn (King) and Ruben (Gosa) were new. Nick (Lewis) and Tyler (Landry) didn’t have much experience. Scotty (Sterusky) was the only one with any experience. They’ve worked awfully hard to get where we are.”
John Hardin is in the midst of the school’s longest winning streak. Wells has been pleased with certain aspects, but he said the Bulldogs need to continue to improve if they are going to repeat as district champions.
“Our composure has been good,” Wells said. “When we’ve gotten down, we didn’t panic. We’ve held our composure and found ways to win. We’ve shot the ball better the last few weeks. For us, it’s about our defense. I thought in our half-court defense we’ve had trouble stopping dribble penetration and our rebounding hasn’t been as strong. We have to get back to doing those things like we did early in the season.”
The Bulldogs, though, still create plenty of problems for opponents. They have four players – seniors Brandon Price and Daveon Greene and juniors Keon Williams and Patrick Anderson – averaging 12 or more points.
“They’re very athletic and they play so well together,” Bevars said. “They have a lot of weapons. They are the definition of a real team. It’s an old cliché, but they are well-coached and they seem to like playing with each other. They play well together.”
Wells shares the same view on Bevars’ Trojans, who have a balanced attack. Gosa averages 18.6 points per game followed by Landry at 11.6 and King at 10.7. Sterusky, Rasheed and Lewis all score eight or more points a game.
“First of all, they play extremely hard,” Wells said. “Their overall hustle is impressive. They’re very good offensively. Landry’s a force inside, Gosa can score in a variety of ways and King has gotten better. And defensively, they can take you out of things you do.”
Which team can be successful in that regard will likely be the one cutting down the nets tonight.
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.