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Standing in John Hardin’s path to the Boys’ 5th Region Basketball Tournament championship is once again the LaRue County Hawks.
The teams met last year in the region semifinals with John Hardin pulling out an 84-78 overtime victory. The Hawks led by 15 in the first half and held a 12-point advantage in the third quarter before the Bulldogs rallied to force overtime on Brandon Price’s jumper and then pulled away on their way to their second region championship.
LaRue County (21-7) will have plenty of motivation after last year’s outcome where the Hawks feel like John Hardin stole one from them. The rematch is set for 6 tonight at Hart County.
John Hardin and LaRue County are two of the hottest teams in the region. The Bulldogs have reeled off a school-record 18 straight wins, including a 68-64 win over Bardstown in their region opener. LaRue County knocked off Adair County, 58-45 in the region quarterfinals for its seventh consecutive win.
The game features the region’s best offense against the second-ranked defense.
The Bulldogs (26-3) are averaging 72.3 points per game and they’ve scored more than 60 in all but four games this season. Price leads the team in scoring at 17.7 a game followed by senior forward Daveon Greene at 16.7. Junior guards Keon Williams and Patrick Anderson both are scoring more than 11 points per game.
“They have a lot of weapons,” LaRue County coach Paul Childress said. “They have an excellent point guard in Brandon. They have Greene inside. They have a lot of different ways to score.
“They’re not the same as last year,” he added. “They have more depth. And you can see it in their numbers, they’re better offensively.”
Getting points from multiple positions is a concern for Childress and his Hawks, who are giving up only 48.0 points per game – second only to Bethlehem’s 46.6.
“A lot of times you have one or two key guys,” Childress said. “You focus on taking those guys away. But they’re not like that. (Elijah) Smith, Williams and Anderson all knock down shots. You have to defend them all.”
While LaRue County’s calling card has been its defense, that doesn’t mean the Hawks lack offensive firepower. They have one of the most dynamic players in the region in senior point guard Kelton Ford, who is averaging 22.9 points per game.
“Ford gets to the basket so easily, but he can also shoot from the outside,” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “He does a great job creating for his teammates. What worries us is he does such a good job playing the passing lanes and getting steals. We’ve got to contain him, if that’s possible.”
But the Hawks are much more than Ford. Juniors Kody Key-Close and Tyler Howell, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Adair County, combine for more than 17 points a game.
“Key-Close and Howell have really improved from last year,” Wells said. “Last year we were aware of them, but we’ve made them a point of emphasis in practice this week.”
Which team can dictate tempo will probably be the one moving on. John Hardin prefers an up-tempo game, while Childress said his team has been able to adjust to any style this season. But against the Bulldogs, Childress said the Hawks will need to be patient and can ill-afford live-ball turnovers.
“Watching the Bardstown game, they get out in transition and get a lot of points that way,” Childress said. “That’s going to be a point of emphasis for us. We need to slow them down. Rebounding is also going to be important. But what it boils down to is we have to be focused for 32 minutes. That’s what it’s going to take.
“I’m happy where we’re at right now,” he added. “We’ve done a good job of making adjustments. We’re confident playing different type of styles. We’ve played slow and we’ve played fast, which is how they like to play. I think that gives us a lot of confidence.”
The teams shouldn’t be lacking in terms of confidence or emotion, considering what’s at stake, which means the game will ultimately be decided by which one can execute the best.
“To me, there’s no excuse to not play with intensity because it’s the region semifinals,” Wells said. “LaRue County came out with a lot of intensity last year and so did we, but I thought they did things right. It’s important to match their intensity but we also have to do things well. Execution is going to be the key.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.