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Central Hardin and Elizabethtown are as different as night and day.
The Bruins are 3-0. They rely heavily on their perimeter players as they don’t have a dominant inside presence. The Bruins have experience.
The Panthers are 1-3 after opening the season with a victory over Adair County. They have one of the premier post players in the 5th Region in Mitchell Henry, who is the only Panther with much varsity experience.
The teams cross paths tonight when Elizabethtown hosts the Bruins at 7:30 at Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium in an early 17th District clash.
“It’s early for everyone,” Elizabethtown coach James Haire said. “For us, this year has been different. There’s been a lot of distractions away from basketball. We don’t have a lot of experience. We don’t have a lot of guys who have played together. It’s just been different.”
While the Panthers have struggled early, Central Hardin has been just the opposite. The Bruins opened with a win over Nelson County before rallying for an overtime victory over Henderson County in the Campbellsville Tip-Off Classic. The Bruins have been especially solid in the second half in all three games.
“I think it’s taking us awhile getting into the flow of the game,” Central Hardin coach J.C. Wright said. “Obviously, you don’t want to keep doing that, but I thought we did a better job against Grayson County. We have to become more consistent, but I like how we’re playing.”
The series has gone back and forth the last few seasons. Elizabethtown won all three meetings last season, while Central Hardin swept the series in 2008-09. The prior year, the teams split the two meetings.
“One thing is for sure when you play an E’town team, James is going to have them play hard,” Wright said. “They work hard and they play for 32 minutes. Of course, they have Mitchell inside and people ask me how we’re going to stop him. But they have a good supporting cast who can knock down shots. It’s a tough game for us.”
Tough is the one word Haire used to describe the Bruins, who are led by senior Matt Nichols who has shot 47 free throws in three games.
“They have good experience,” Haire said. “They have tough players. Matt Nichols is a tough player. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Haire said the key for the Panthers is handling Central Hardin’s pressure. That’s one area the Panthers have struggled in early in the season as players adjust to their new roles.
“I can see improvement,” Haire said. “I like that we don’t give up. We don’t always make good decisions, but that goes back to our experience. One thing is we have to take care of the basketball and that’s something we seem to talk about before every game. And we have to get our intensity level up.”
With the Bruins, Wright said it’s imperative his team limits Elizabethtown’s second chance points. If the Panthers dominate the boards, Wright said it will be a long night.
“We have to be aware of what’s going on in the paint,” Wright said. “They are so good at going to the offensive boards. With Mitchell and (Chris) McDonald, they do a great job. We have to eliminate their second and third shots. We have to take care of the basketball because they’re good at throwing different looks at you. But we can’t let them control the boards.”
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or at firstname.lastname@example.org