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John Hardin senior Daveon Greene made good on his guarantee Saturday night.
After last year’s loss to Scott County in the Boys’ Sweet 16 quarterfinals, Greene made a guarantee the Bulldogs would be back in the state tournament this season and Greene delivered on his promise.
Greene keyed John Hardin’s first-quarter spurt which helped the Bulldogs seize control early and they never let up on their way to a 64-51 victory in the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament championship at Hart County High School.
“At the end of the game, Coach (Mark) Wells told me I made him a promise after last year and I came through on it,” said Greene, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after a 20-point, seven-rebound performance. “We didn’t say anything about it. We were thinking about this season and not getting sidetracked. I’m glad to see us get back.”
Wells said the team never talked about Greene’s guarantee this season, but there was plenty of motivation to get back to Rupp Arena, site of the state tournament.
“They may not have talked about his promise, but they talked a lot about going to Rupp,” Wells said. “In September during sprints and conditioning, you could see they were hungry. You worried that would drop off, but here it is the end of February and it never did.”
It marks the first time John Hardin won consecutive region championships in the program’s 12-year history. The Bulldogs are making their third appearance in the state tournament, advancing in 2006 as well as last year.
“They’re both special, but this one might be more special,” said senior point guard Brandon Price, who had 17 points and seven assists. “This is the first time we’ve done it back-to-back. My brother (Ricky) was apart of the first team that went, so this means a lot to be going back again.”
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs (28-3) meet 16th Region champion Fleming County (28-6) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Sweet 16. Fleming County beat Rowan County, 60-45 on Friday night to earn its first trip to the state tournament.
North Hardin, which finished 24-9 this season, fell behind by double digits in the first quarter and managed to get within single digits only on two occasions – once in the first quarter and the other in the second.
“I think our strengths and their strengths were the same, but they were a little bit better,” North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said. “We never could get back into it. That’s the sign of a really good team. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of kids. They never quit. We just ran into a better team.”
John Hardin, which is riding a school-best 20-game win streak, made fast work of the Trojans, who lost for only the second time in 14 trips to the region title game.
The Bulldogs turned a two-point deficit into a 19-8 lead with a 13-0 run in less than 3 minutes. After North Hardin senior Scotty Sterusky made a layup, junior Keon Williams and Price had back-to-back layups.
After a North Hardin 30-second timeout, Greene and Price combined for nine straight points. Greene had a putback and a layup and then Price made a layup and 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 19-8 lead with 1:02 left in the first quarter.
“It was huge to get off to a good start,” Price said. “They’re a team that likes to get off to a fast start and we couldn’t afford that. We had to come out and get the lead early.”
The Bulldogs got a huge lift from senior forward Ricky Burns, who had 11 rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. Wells called Burns the spark plug early in the game.
“My coaches prepped me and hyped me up before the game and I was hungry,” Burns said. “We were rotating on defense and boxing out. That was the key for us.”
John Hardin made it difficult for North Hardin senior Ruben Gosa, who made 7-of-13 shots for a team-high 18 points. Junior guard Patrick Anderson, sophomore Elijah Smith and freshman Matt Miller hounded Gosa from baseline to baseline.
“They were keying on me which is understandable, but I didn’t have a good night,” Gosa said. “They played great defense. They had fresh legs. They seemed like they were 10 or 11 deep. They had an advantage there.”
Gosa cut the deficit to nine with an old-fashioned three-point play, but Miller made a 15-footer and Price hit two free throws to push the lead to 27-14. The Bulldogs led by double digits the final 22:41.
John Hardin stretched the lead to 38-23 at halftime, and after back-to-back baskets, including a dunk, by Williams and a three-point play by Anderson, the lead swelled to 45-25 with 4:15 left in the third quarter.
“That’s important for us and something we’ve talked about is putting teams away,” Anderson said. “We want to expand the lead once we get it. We don’t want to let teams back in it. We did that tonight and that was the key getting back to Rupp Arena.”
Going back to the state tournament was the only thing on John Hardin’s minds, especially the final minutes of the game when the Bulldogs could sense victory was within their grasp.
“I’m at a loss for words right now,” Williams said. “That was just our goal to go back to the state tournament. North Hardin was just the team in our way tonight. It was hard at times, but we came back on top again.”
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOHN HARDIN 64
North Hardin 11 1210 18—51
John Hardin 21 1711 15—64
Team FG FT R TP
North Hardin 21-46 9-13 20 51
John Hardin 23-49 16-21 35 64
Player FG FT R TP
Lewis 2-6 1-1 3 5
King 2-7 0-0 2 4
Gosa 7-13 4-5 1 18
Sterusky 2-4 2-4 5 6
Landry 4-5 1-1 3 9
Rasheed 4-11 1-2 4 9
Player FG FT R TP
Price 3-13 10-12 1 17
Anderson 2-3 1-1 4 5
Williams 4-8 0-1 4 8
Burns 1-1 1-3 11 3
Greene 8-16 4-4 7 20
Smith 1-2 0-0 4 3
Miller 2-3 0-0 0 4
Jackson 2-3 0-0 1 4
3-POINTERS: NORTH HARDIN (0-9): Nick Lewis 0-1, Scotty Sterusky 0-1, Tyronn King 0-2, Ruben Gosa 0-2, Khalil Rasheed 0-3. JOHN HARDIN (2-11): Elijah Smith 1-2, Brandon Price 1-6, Keon Williams 0-3. ASSISTS: NORTH HARDIN (5): Ruben Gosa 2, Nick Lewis 1, Scotty Sterusky 1, Khalil Rasheed 1. JOHN HARDIN (11): Brandon Price 7, Keon Williams 2, Daveon Greene 1, Elijah Smith 1.
BOYS’ 5TH REGION ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
John Hardin: Patrick Anderson, Brandon Price, Keon Williams and MVP Daveon Greene.
North Hardin: Ruben Gosa, Tyler Landry and Scotty Sterusky.
Bethlehem: Jordan Cooper-Livers and Harrison Rogers.
LaRueCounty: Kelton Ford and Tyler Howell.
AdairCounty: Chance Melton.
Bardstown: Marcus Cosby.
Caverna: Mason Faulkner.
TaylorCounty: Quentin Goodin and Caleb Wigginton.