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LOUISVILLE — Elizabethtown coach James Haire has always taken pride in getting the Panthers to play hard-nosed defense, so he was at a loss for words after their performance in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic.
The host Fairdale Bulldogs shot 53.6 percent from the field and outscored the Panthers in each of the final three quarters to cruise to a 74-58 victory in the first round of the tournament.
“They were getting the ball anywhere they wanted,” Haire said. “We have certain defenses to keep the ball out of the middle and we didn’t do that. I can’t explain or understand why we didn’t come to play.
“That stuff shouldn’t happen,” he added. “They got to every loose ball. I didn’t see a lot of effort plays. We did nothing to stop them. I’m at a loss for words right now.”
Fairdale seniors Coryontez Thomas and Caleb Longacre combined to score 53 points. Thomas scored 10 points in the second quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a 33-25 halftime lead and then Longacre took over, scoring 22 second-half points.
“We let them get too comfortable,” said senior guard Ja’Von Cotton, who scored 15 points. “It’s supposed to be hard to get to the middle and they made it look easy. They got to the middle whenever they wanted. We have to man up and play good defense.”
The Panthers, who dropped their first game, had allowed more than 70 points only one in their previous four games and had held their last two opponents to a combined 99 points.
Elizabethtown got off to a good start behind senior guard Nic McDonald, who scored eight of the team’s first 10 points. But McDonald picked up two first-quarter fouls and picked up his third foul with 5 minutes left before halftime.
When McDonald went to the bench, the Panthers held a 21-19 lead, but Fairdale, which has won three straight, came storming back. Thomas scored six straight points, and then closed the first half on a 5-0 run to build a 33-25 halftime lead.
“We were running the floor and pushing the ball a lot,” said senior center Dominique Harding, who had 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting to go with five rebounds, three assists and three blocks. “We were moving the ball around well and getting good shots. In the second quarter, we slowed down. They were getting the ball to the middle and we weren’t stopping them.”
That trend continued in the third quarter. The Bulldogs shot 50 percent from the middle and led by double digits all but 40 seconds.
Trailing 58-44, Cotton drained a 3-pointer, and then McDonald, who scored 13 points, stole a pass and coasted in for an uncontested layup. After a layup by Thomas, junior forward Tristan Johnson made a layup to cut the lead to 60-51 with 3:47 remaining.
But Longacre made consecutive layups and then senior center Terik Mason added another one to push the lead to 66-51 less than a minute later. The Bulldogs led by double digits the final 3:39.
“In the fourth quarter, we got it within nine, I think, and then we give up three straight layups,” Haire said. “We wanted to speed the game up, but not like that.”
Haire had a sense this was coming after the past week in practice.
“I don’t want to put all the blame on my players,” Haire said. “This is my fault for not getting them more prepared and not in the right frame of mind. The score was lopsided against Grayson, but they still got the ball down low. I need to do a better job in practice, because we need to play much better defensively.”
FAIRDALE 74, ELIZABETHTOWN 58
Elizabethtown 19 6 14 19—58
Fairdale 13 20 19 22—74
Dominique Harding 16, Ja’Von Cotton 15, Nic McDonald 13, Guy Williams 5, Zach Patterson 4, Ryan Harris 3, Tristan Johnson 2. FG: 24-58. FT: 2-9. 3-pointers: 8-27 (McDonald 3-6, Cotton 3-8, Harris 1-4, Williams 1-4, Patterson 0-2, Johnson 0-1, Jackson Gillock 0-1, J.R. Royal 0-1). Rebs: 33 (Harris 6). Assists: 10 (Harding 3).
Coryontez Thomas 27, Caleb Longacre 26, Terik Mason 9, Joe Cox 6, Raymont Blincoe 4, Damon Moore 2. FG: 30-56. FT: 11-22. 3-pointers: 3-12 (Cox 2-3, Thomas 1-6, Longacre 0-3). Rebs: 38 (Mason 13). Assists: 11 (Thomas 4).
UP NEXT: Elizabethtown plays Lexington Lafayette game at 6 p.m. Saturday in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic at Fairdale.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com