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MUNFORDVILLE — North Hardin coach Ron Bevars doesn’t have much hair and what he does have has already turned gray, so he doesn’t want to pull his hair out and he doesn’t have to worry about it going gray watching his Trojans.
But they do drive him crazy at times.
Case in point, the Trojans raced out to a 24-4 lead in the first quarter, but as fouls mounted, North Hardin saw its lead dwindle to six on three occasions in the second half before pulling away for a 61-52 victory over the Taylor County Cardinals on Tuesday in the Boys’ 5th Region Basketball Tournament quarterfinals at Hart County.
“They’re a fun group to be around, but their fun is beginning to wear on me,” Bevars joked.
The Trojans (23-8) advance to the region semifinals for the first time since winning the tournament in 2010. They meet the Bethlehem Eagles (26-5) at 8:45 p.m. Friday. The Eagles held on for a 53-47 win over Caverna in the first quarterfinal Tuesday.
“Find a way to win and live to see another day,” said North Hardin senior guard Ruben Gosa, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the first quarter. “That’s what it’s all about, live on for another day. Now, we’ll get ready for Friday night.”
Any chance North Hardin, which beat the Cardinals by 15 in the regular season, might overlook Taylor County was put to rest early. The Trojans did little wrong the first quarter, scoring 14 straight points to open the game.
Senior Tyler Landry, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds, made a layup and then sophomore Tyronn King hit a 15-footer to force Taylor County coach Jeff Kidder to call a 30-second timeout one minute, 10 seconds into the game.
Things didn’t get any better. King had a putback, Gosa drained a 15-footer and then King and Gosa had back-to-back layups prompting Kidder to call a full timeout.
“I think we were pushing the break and finding the open man,” said King, who had 15 points, five rebounds and three assists. “I think we came out strong. It was a real good start and we came into the game with a lot of intensity.”
After Gosa made two free throws, Taylor County (16-15) finally scored at the 3:38 mark when senior Spirit Smith hit two fee throws. But King made a short jumper, and after a Taylor County turnover, Gosa drained a 3-pointer from the right baseline to stretch the lead to 19-2 with 3:06 remaining.
The Cardinals didn’t make their first shot from the floor until junior Caleb Wigginton, who had 22 points, made a 16-foot jumper with 2:41 left. North Hardin, though, reeled off five straight points as the lead swelled to 24-4 with 1:09 remaining.
The Trojans led 32-12 after an old-fashioned three-point play by King with 5:45 left before halftime. Although they had a big lead, their foul trouble began to mount. Junior Khalil Rasheed picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and then Gosa went to the bench with three and senior Scotty Sterusky with two in the second quarter.
“We were moving the ball, running the break and pounding it down low to Tyler,” said North Hardin senior guard Nick Lewis, who scored 11 points. “We stopped running the break and we were taking shots after one pass. But we were fouling too much. That killed us.”
Taylor County took advantage, cutting the lead to 38-24 at halftime, and after Gosa picked up his fourth foul with 6:43 left in the third, the Cardinals mounted a serious challenge. They cut the lead to six on three occasions – the last at 48-42 after three quarters.
Sterusky made a pair of free throws and Lewis hit a short turnaround in the lane. After freshman guard Quentin Goodin, who scored 23 points, made a 15-footer, Lewis and Gosa had consecutive layups to push the lead to 56-44 with 2:30 left.
“We’re resilient,” Lewis said. “We’re going to come back and get back on our feet. That’s what we did tonight after they got close. We’re not going to quit no matter the score or circumstances.”
The Trojans made 5-of-6 free throws – Sterusky three and Gosa two – in the final 1:21 to seal the win. If the Trojans are going to continue to advance in the tournament, Bevars said they must play smarter.
“We’ve done that before,” Bevars said of the fast start. “We’ve also let teams back in it. We got in terrible foul trouble. Everyone had two fouls it seemed like in the first half. But I thought we played with composure the second half. We just can’t afford to get in that type of foul trouble.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.