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Elizabethtown coach James Haire thinks the Central Hardin Bruins save their best games for his Panthers.
So far this season, his observation is spot-on.
The Bruins made it a sweep Friday against 17th District rival, fending off the Panthers’ three chances to win in the final 15 seconds and holding on for a 60-59 victory at Bruin Gym.
It gave Central Hardin (7-5, 2-2 district) its first regular-season sweep of Elizabethtown (7-3, 0-2) in four seasons. The Bruins trailed just once – 2-0 – got the Panthers’ two big men into foul trouble and came up with key 3s and turnovers in the fourth quarter to survive.
“Coach (J.C.) Wright said it best, ‘we’re resilient.’ We don’t let teams just take the lead from us. We come back and fire back right back at them,” said senior guard Alex Crowder, who scored a team-high 16 points. “Our team’s played sloppy and overcame it before. I would’ve liked to have played better, but we’ve done it before.”
The Bruins ended Elizabethtown’s six-game winning streak and avoided their first losing skid this season. But it didn’t come without a crazy finish.
After building a 51-44 lead after three quarters, the Bruins watched their advantage dwindle to just one after senior forward Chas Jones, who finished with 14 points, recorded a three-point play with 3:52 to go.
Then Central Hardin rebuilt its lead. Senior guard Troy Squires buried a 3-pointer off an assist from Crowder with 3:35 left and senior center Tyler McCullough hit a jumper to put it up 58-52 with 2:44 to go. Crowder was laughing after Squires’ 3 because it was from deep on the left wing.
“He was deep. He was deep,” Crowder said. “I didn’t expect him to shoot it and he shot it. I had faith it was going in though once he shot it.”
The Bruins then held on for dear life.
Sophomore center Zane Najdawi scored on a putback to cut the deficit to four with less than 2 minutes remaining before junior guard Ryan Harris scored on a layup to make it 58-56 with 51.2 seconds left.
Squires, who scored 15 points and hit 4-of-12 3s, made two foul shots to push the lead to 60-56 with 44.6 seconds left. But Elizabethtown junior guard Ja’Von Cotton, who scored a game-high 20 points, drained a 3 with 36 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to one.
On Central Hardin’s ensuing possession, Cotton forced a loose ball and called a timeout before being tied up to give his team the ball with with 21.9 seconds to go.
After the timeout, Crowder forced a tie-up with 13.3 seconds remaining to get the ball back.
Crowder was fouled on the inbounds and missed a free throw. Najdawi secured the rebound and moved the ball upcourt, but the Panthers were called for travelling with 5.8 seconds remaining.
Elizabethtown had one last chance, though.
Harris stole Central Hardin’s inbounds pass in the left corner, and with time running down, forced a 3 between two defenders. It bounced off the back of the rim and onto the right side before Crowder got to it with half a second remaining to secure the win.
“That’s a sign of a very immature team. I commend them for being able to get back in the game, for being able to have three chances, then you go three chances and you don’t get one clear shot. That’s immaturity on our part,” Haire said. “We try to run a play and get tied up on the wing. I don’t know how that happens. Then we get fortunate enough to get it back and we don’t really take the ball from the sideline and dribble to the middle, but we did that and didn’t get nothing out of that. Then we get a steal toward the end.”
Junior forward Dillon Glenn added 12 points and four rebounds for the Bruins, whose last half-minute of defensive effort enabled them to escape.
“Mistake’s made on one end, we’ve got to counteract that on the other. And our kids did,” Wright said. “We made a big defensive stand and I’m proud of the boys for what they gave tonight – just a hard-working bunch of kids.”
Najdawi and junior forward Dominique Harding each scored eight points for the Panthers, but both were plagued with foul trouble for three quarters. Junior guard Nic McDonald didn’t play because of a foot injury, which didn’t help matters either.
Haire was frustrated with his team’s aggressiveness and lack of leadership. He said both need to improve or his team will be average all year long.
“We just couldn’t take care of the ball, dumb mistakes,” said Najdawi, who also had 11 rebounds and scored six points in the fourth quarter. “We just need to practice harder, focus on the next game. Learn from the situations and just try not to make the mistakes again.”
UP NEXT: Central Hardin plays at John Hardin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Elizabethtown hosts Fort Knox at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
John Groth can be reached at (270) 505-1754 or email@example.com.
CENTRAL HARDIN 60
Elizabethtown 12 19 13 15—59
Central Hardin 14 20 17 9—60
Team FG FT R TP
Elizabethtown 25-46 5-8 29 59
Central Hardin 21-53 9-12 27 60
Player FG FT R TP
Patterson 0-4 0-0 3 0
Cotton 8-13 1-1 2 20
Harris 2-6 2-2 1 7
Harding 4-10 0-0 3 8
Najdawi 4-4 0-0 11 8
Jones 6-9 2-4 4 14
J. Williams 1-1 0-1 1 2
Player FG FT R TP
Squires 4-15 3-5 5 15
Kerr 1-2 1-1 2 3
Elmore 1-1 0-0 2 2
Crowder 6-16 1-2 1 16
McCullough 2-5 2-2 5 6
Glenn 4-7 2-2 4 12
Barnes 1-2 0-0 0 2
Gordon 2-5 0-0 3 4
3-POINTERS: ELIZABETHTOWN (4-11): Ja’Von Cotton 3-5, Ryan Harris 1-3. Dominique Harding 0-1, Zach Patterson 0-2. CENTRAL HARDIN (9-21): Troy Squires 4-12, Alex Crowder 3-5, Dillon Glenn 2-2, Tyler McCullough 0-1, Jacob Barnes 0-1. ASSISTS: ELIZABETHTOWN (8): Ja’Von Cotton 2, Zane Najdawi 2, Ryan Harris 2, Kyle Williams 1, Josh Williams 1. CENTRAL HARDIN (10): Alex Crowder 3, Troy Squires 2, Dillon Glenn 2, Andy Kerr 2, Cody Elmore 1.