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The pace was to John Hardin’s liking even though the score wasn’t for the first 11 minutes. The Bulldogs didn’t panic, staying with their up-tempo style and it paid big dividends.
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs used a strong second quarter surge to take control on their way to an 83-74 victory over the North Hardin Trojans to win back-to-back Boys’ 17th District Tournament titles for the first time in the program’s history.
“The game of basketball is one of runs,” said John Hardin senior point guard Brandon Price, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. “Like it said in the paper, they start fast. They came out and punched us in the mouth. But we came right back at them.”
Both teams advance to the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament, which begins Monday at Hart County. John Hardin plays Bardstown, while North Hardin meets Taylor County.
John Hardin (25-3) extended the program’s longest winning streak to 17. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since a 52-51 setback to Cincinnati Princeton on Dec. 29 in Lexington Catholic’s Republic Bank Holiday Classic.
The Bulldogs scored the fourth most points in a district final. The 157 combined points were the most points for a final in regulation since the 2002 game, which saw North Hardin and Elizabethtown combine for 159 points. There were 157 points scored in the quadruple overtime final in 2011.
A big reason for John Hardin’s success was the play of senior forward Daveon Greene, who scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Greene made 11-of-17 shots from the field.
“I got after him during a timeout (in the first half),” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “He has to play full speed all the time. I probably shouldn’t have gotten on him so hard, but he’s a guy that really accepts challenges. That’s a credit to him. Some players will pout when that happens, but he responds the other way.”
Greene said Wells’ challenge is exactly what he needed to get him in the right frame of mind.
“It woke me up,” Greene said. “Not that I was out of it, but I was thinking about other little things like I didn’t want to lose at home and I didn’t want to lose to a rival. I can’t worry about those things. That snapped me out of my dream and I got back to playing basketball.”
North Hardin (22-8) saw its eight-game winning streak come to an end. It was the Trojans’ first loss since a 63-52 decision to John Hardin on Jan. 18.
“They’ve got a real deep bench and we were fatigued,” said North Hardin senior guard Ruben Gosa, who had 16 points and five assists. “That’s what it was. It’s very depressing. I like to win; losing’s not an option. I hate losing a game like that.”
The game started at a frantic up-and-down pace that seemed to favor the Trojans early. They trailed only for 10 seconds in the first 8 minutes. The Trojans shot 56.3 percent in the first quarter to take a 22-18 lead.
The Bulldogs used a 10-5 run to start the second quarter, capped by consecutive 3-pointers by sophomore guard Elijah Smith and Price, to grab a 28-27 lead – only their second of the game after leading 14-13 in the first quarter.
“We try to wear their legs out and get them tired,” said John Hardin junior Patrick Anderson, who scored 10 points. “Basketball is a game of runs. They had their run and then we had our run. We have faith in what we do. We have great players off the bench. We believe we can wear teams down.”
After North Hardin sophomore Tyronn King hit a 10-foot jumper, John Hardin junior Keon Williams, Anderson and Greene all made a layup to take a 34-29 lead with 4:26 remaining before halftime and prompt North Hardin coach Ron Bevars to call a timeout. It didn’t get better after the stoppage as Anderson nailed a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 37-29.
“I thought in the second quarter our style of play started to take over,” Wells said. “We like the game to be at a faster pace. You wonder if you’re doing that right thing when they’re scoring at will. But we kept telling the kids to stay with it and it will eventually pay off.”
The Bulldogs forced North Hardin in 17 turnovers and they held a 25-3 edge in points off turnovers. John Hardin also had a 40-31 rebounding advantage and scored 18 second-chance points compared to North Hardin’s 10.
“I think we gave up 17 points off turnovers in the first half and most of that came in the second quarter,” Bevars said. “We could never make a serious run at them. We kept battling. Next Saturday this might all be forgotten if we get there (the region final).”
John Hardin led 42-34 at halftime and the margin swelled to 63-43 after three quarters as freshman guard Matt Miller, Price and Greene combined for 17 points.
North Hardin tried to mount a furious comeback in the final quarter getting within nine on two occasions, but the deficit was too much.
“I was telling the guys in the locker room that we have a new goal now,” Greene said. “We’re happy to win the district championship, but starting tomorrow we have to prepare to play next week. That’s what really counts.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.