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BOYS’ PREP BASKETBALL: E’town, Central meet tonight (12/13)

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By RYAN O’GARA

At such an early stage of the season, it’s difficult to place a ton of emphasis on a single game.

For the Elizabethtown Panthers (2-0) and Central Hardin Bruins (3-0), tonight’s 17th District opener represents a chance for each team to get a better gauge of where they are.

Especially for the Bruins, who have an average margin of victory of 30.7 points but haven’t played a team like Elizabethtown, one of the favorites in the 5th Region.

“E’town is playing good basketball, so it will sort of give us a good mark of where we are and what we need to continue to work on,” Central Hardin coach J.C. Wright said. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but we’ve made good progress. Chemistry is probably our biggest plus.”

The Panthers have looked the part of region contender in the early part of the season, downing both Thomas Nelson – a team projected to contend in the region – and Bowling Green by eight points apiece.

Elizabethtown coach James Haire has been pleased with the way his team has been able to fight back from early deficits in both games and execute down the stretch, though he downplayed the win over Bowling Green because the Purples had several players still playing football.

Senior guards Ja’Von Cotton (21 points per game) and Nic McDonald (20 per game) give Elizabethtown a formidable scoring duo, and the Panthers have also gotten contributions from seniors Dominique Harding and Ryan Harris and junior Zach Patterson.

It’s a game which surely has Elizabethtown’s attention as Central Hardin swept the Panthers last season.

“All I know is last year, we were feeling pretty good and they came over here and beat us,” Haire said. “I thought we got outworked a little bit.”

The Bruins have outworked their opponents by a significant margin so far this season, with their only challenge coming in a 63-42 win over Grayson County on Tuesday in which they led by six at the start of the fourth quarter.

Central Hardin has a potent scoring duo of its own in senior forward Dillon Glenn (21.3 points per game) and senior guard Jacob Barnes (20 per game). Glenn was two steals shy of a triple-double against Grayson County, while Barnes has made 11 3-pointers and is shooting 40.7 percent from long range.

As a team, the Bruins have hit 26-of-67 (38.8 percent) from beyond the arc, so the Panthers know they can’t relax defensively.

“They have several guys who can shoot the 3, which is something you want to guard against,” Haire said. “Last year they had a pretty good work ethic. They run and execute their offense pretty well.”

Wright acknowledged the Bruins have done what they’re supposed to thus far in racking up three blowout wins, which has given a team with only two players with significant varsity experience some confidence. But he admitted greater obstacles loom with the Panthers tonight and John Hardin on Tuesday.

“It’s helped with our confidence and I’m pleased with our play, but things get going in district play,” Wright said. “Things change and the competition will pick up. The 17th is so competitive again this year.”

And the Bruins, who won last year’s two meetings by a combined eight points, are intent on leaving the past in the past.

“That was last year, but each year brings a new challenge,” Wright said. “It’ll be a big challenge for us. You need games like this early on.”

In other district games:

n The North Hardin Lady Trojans (2-1) play at Fort Knox (0-2) in the district opener for both schools.

n LaRue County hosts Hart County in an 18th District doubleheader. The Lady Hawks (2-1) are looking to get back on track after falling to Anderson County, while both boys’ teams are searching for their first win.

n After topping Cloverport Frederick Fraize on Thursday night, Meade County (1-2) looks for its second consecutive 11th District win when the Lady Waves travel to Breckinridge County (1-2).

Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or rogara@thenewsenterprise.com.