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The North Hardin Trojans showcased plenty of firepower on offense, but it was their defensive play which led to an explosive victory.
North Hardin came up with four steals in the fourth quarter to rally for an 84-77 victory over the homestanding Bardstown Tigers on Friday night to close out the regular season on a seven-game winning streak.
“We love to play defense,” said North Hardin senior guard Ruben Gosa, who poured in a game-high 32 points and dished out four assists. “We work on defense every day in practice. There are practices when we do nothing but defense. We complain about it, but it has a big affect in the game. Defense starts our offense.”
That was the case against the Tigers, who went 1-3 against 17th District teams this season. Tied at 58, Bardstown pulled out to a 64-59 lead with 5:37 remaining.
North Hardin senior guard Nick Lewis made an off-balance runner in the lane and senior Tyler Landry hit two free throws. On Bardstown’s next possession, Gosa came up with a steal and fed Lewis for a layup. Lewis was fouled on the play and capped the three-point play to give the Trojans a 66-64 lead with 4:45 remaining.
The Trojans pulled out to a 70-66 lead on two free throws by Gosa and a layup by Lewis, but the Tigers used four consecutive foul shots to tie the score for the sixth time.
The score remained that way for only 12 seconds as the Trojans quickly answered. Gosa drove in for a layup, King came up with a steal and buried a 10-footer in the lane and Landry had a putback after another Bardstown turnover to give the Trojans a 76-70 with 2:07 left.
“We forced them into two or three turnovers and that got us back in it,” North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said. “We played well defensively in the second half. We were reaching a lot in the first half and it got us into foul trouble. We did a better job in the second half.”
Bardstown senior Devonte Grundy made back-to-back shots and senior Jared Hickman drained a 3-pointer to pull within 79-77 with 50 seconds remaining.
But Lewis made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 38 seconds to seal the win for the Trojans, who are hitting 69.3 percent of their foul shots this season.
“After practice and after hours, we do a lot of work on free throws,” Lewis said. “We do it several times in practice where there is no talking and we just work on free throws in game situations like this. We do it when we’re tired and it pays off in games.”
The Trojans had their third highest point total of the season and they’ve scored 80 or more points in three consecutive games. Besides Gosa, Landry scored 18 points, Lewis 14 and junior Khalil Rasheed 12. They shot 46.4 percent from field.
And the Trojans did it without senior Scotty Sterusky, the team’s fourth leading scorer and one of its top defenders, who was serving a two-game suspension for getting two technical fouls against Marion County on Feb. 8.
“It would have been a good win with Scotty,” Bevars said. “Without Scotty, it’s an awfully good win. I thought we played well offensively in spurts. We did too much one-on-one for a while, but we started playing together and sharing the ball again. But it was a battle.”
Grundy led the Tigers (22-8) with 30 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore L.J. Cowherd had 20 points and six assists, while Hickman chipped in with 16 points.
“It was two good teams that really wanted to win,” Bardstown coach James Brewer said. “It was a great basketball game and a learning experience for us. We took several quick shots when we had a lead. We had some critical turnovers and they capitalized on them.”
North Hardin built lead an eight-point lead in the first quarter and led by nine in the second quarter, but the Tigers came roaring back behind a 14-0 run to take a 31-26 lead with 2:51 left behind halftime.
The Trojans came back to grab a 39-38 halftime lead and built a 53-43 lead after two free throws by Landry with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter. But the lead quickly evaporated as Bardstown used a 12-0 run to take a 55-53 lead.
“It was important for us to calm down,” said Rasheed, who grabbed 10 rebounds. “We had to keep playing and make up for our mistakes. We had to play like we have been. We have been successful because we are playing hard and playing as a team.”
NORTH HARDIN84, BARDSTOWN 77
North Hardin 20 19 19 26—84
Bardstown 12 26 20 19—77
Ruben Gosa 32, Tyler Landry 18, Nick Lewis 14, Khalil Rasheed 12, Tyronn King 7, Johnny Hopkins 1. FG: 26-56. FT: 29-36. 3-pointers: 3-10 (Rasheed 2-3, Gosa 1-5, King 0-2). Rebs: 40 (Rasheed 10, Landry 9). Assists: 10 (King 5).
Devonte Grundy 30, L.J. Cowherd 20, Jared Hickman 16, Seivon Schooling 6, Marcus Cosby 5. FG: 25-71. FT: 19-23. 3-pointers: 8-28 (Hickman 3-6, Cowherd 3-5, Grundy 1-9, Cosby 1-6, Keanu Young 0-1, Dee Yocum 0-1). Rebs: 43 (Grundy 11). Assists: 8 (Cowherd 6).
UP NEXT: North Hardin plays Central Hardin at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the 17th District Tournament semifinals at John Hardin.
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com