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North Hardin’s theme should be start fast and finish strong. It not only describes the Trojans’ season, but how they played Wednesday night in the second semifinal of the Boys’ 17th District Basketball Tournament.
The Trojans overwhelmed the Central Hardin Bruins with an 18-2 run to start the game, and after seeing their lead shrink to two, they pulled away for a 60-53 victory at John Hardin’s Dawg Pound.
“We came out with intensity,” North Hardin senior Ruben Gosa said. “We came out playing hard. We got into foul trouble and we kind of fell off. We lost some of our intensity. I think we got too comfortable with the lead. I could feel it myself, but we just couldn’t stop it. We pulled together and pulled it out.”
North Hardin, which opened the season with five straight wins and currently are on an eight-game winning streak, moves on to the district final where it meets John Hardin (24-3) at 6:30 Friday night. This is the second straight year the teams have met for the championship with the Bulldogs winning last year’s game, 73-69.
Coach Ron Bevars said the Trojans (22-7) became too relaxed once they jumped out to an 18-point lead, but he was proud of his team for finding a way to win.
“I just thought we played together and we were hustling,” Bevars said. “We got the big lead and we stopped running our offense. We’d make one pass and shoot. Or we’d make one pass and take it to the hole. You can’t do that against good teams. You have to give credit to Central Hardin, because they’re not going to quit. They kept battling and playing hard.”
The slow start doomed Central Hardin (12-13) once again. In both prior meetings with North Hardin, the Bruins fell behind by double digits in the first quarter. Both times they battled back, but ultimately ended up losing both games.
“This is the third time that’s happened, but this was the worst start,” Central Hardin coach J.C. Wright said. “You can’t do that against them. We talked about it. I can’t explain it. I thought they came out as the aggressor. They were getting to every loose ball and they attacked offensively.”
The catalyst for the fast start was Gosa, who scored six of North Hardin’s first 10 points and ended up with 14 points in the first quarter. He did a little of everything, driving to the basket for layups, pulling up for mid-range jumpers and knocking down his only 3-point attempt in the first 8 minutes.
Gosa, who transferred from North Hardin Christian prior to the school year, poured in a career-high 33 points, his second consecutive 30-plus performance. He scored 32 at Bardstown on Friday night and he has had six consecutive games with 22 or more points.
“I said when Ruben was in the eighth grade he was one of the best two guards I’d seen at that age,” Bevars said. “I think it took him a little while to adjust to this level. I imagine the game was a little faster than what he was used to there. But his shot has come around and he’s shooting really well right now.”
Despite trailing 23-5, the Bruins slowly chipped away at the lead. Junior Jacob Barnes nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 29-20 – the first time it was less than 10 since 3:30 left in the first quarter.
After North Hardin sophomore Tyronn King made a layup, senior Alex Crowder scored four straight points to get within 31-24 with 49 seconds remaining before halftime. Gosa made a 3-pointer on North Hardin’s ensuing possession, but senior Troy Squires answered with a half-court heave at the buzzer.
The Trojans build an eight-point lead in the third quarter, but Central Hardin used a 12-6 run sparked by 3-pointers from senior Cody Elmore and Crowder to slice the lead to 43-41 with 2:48 remaining. The Bruins had several chances to tie or even take the lead but missed five consecutive shots, including two 3-pointers.
“I felt good about our chances,” Wright said. “We had three or four opportunities to take the lead or tie, but we just missed some shots. We fought so hard to get back in it. It’s tough to see it end this way. The seniors’ work ethic and character is second to none. We couldn’t get over the hump. We couldn’t finish.”
The Trojans, though, didn’t have that problem. Senior guard Malik Thomas came off the bench to draw two charging fouls in the final 3 minutes. Bevars called Thomas’ play the difference in the game. Leading 48-44, Gosa scored six of his team’s next seven points to stretch the lead to 55-46 with 2:12 remaining.
The Bruins didn’t get any closer than seven the rest of the way.
“It’s my senior year and I want to go out with a bang,” Gosa said. “I have to give credit to my teammates. They’re giving me the ball and I’m just taking what the defense is giving me right now.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.