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When John Hardin coach Mark Wells called a timeout less than a minute into the second half, he challenged his team to start playing with more effort and energy.
John Hardin senior point guard Brandon Price heard Wells’ message loud and clear even though he said it shouldn’t have come to that.
Price scored 22 of his game-high 28 points in the second half to help the Bulldogs overcome an 11-point third-quarter deficit on their way to a 68-65 overtime victory over the Elizabethtown Panthers on Tuesday night in a 17th District game at Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium.
“We just stepped up and started playing John Hardin basketball,” said Price, who made 9-of-17 shots from the field, including going 5-for-7 on 3-pointers. “Coach got into us and he shouldn’t have to. We started playing with passion and heart. We were trying to be too pretty. Give E’town credit because they’re a great team. But we weren’t diving on the floor for loose balls or making the hustle plays.”
The 10th-ranked Bulldogs (17-3, 7-0 district) won their ninth consecutive game, but Wells said his team has plenty of things to work on. Elizabethtown held a 40-31 rebounding advantage and the Bulldogs missed 16 of their 32 free throws.
“We showed a lot of heart at the end,” Wells said. “I thought we got some lucky breaks at the end and we had some things go our way. We were fortunate to get out of here with a win. E’town outworked us and outhustled us for most of the game. I’m pleased with our effort down the stretch, but we need to get better.”
Elizabethtown (11-8, 2-4) dropped its third district game by three points or less. The Panthers led by seven with less than 3 minutes left, but struggled to close it, missing four foul shots in the final 65 seconds of regulation and misfiring on three of their four shots from the floor.
“We got ourselves in good position to win and then we got ourselves in bad position,” Elizabethtown coach James Haire said. “It’s not like I don’t see improvement. We’re growing up. I’m proud of the kids’ effort. When bad things happen, you have to keep playing. There’s a lot of positive from the whole game. But we just need to mature as a basketball team.”
The Panthers pulled out to a 39-28 lead with 3:28 left in the third quarter after junior Ja’Von Cotton, who scored 11 points, made 1-of-2 free throws, but Price hit four consecutive free throws and senior Adryan Jackson had a layup to cut the lead to 39-34 with 1:54 remaining.
After Cotton drained a 3-pointer and sophomore Zane Najdawi, who had 18 points and 16 rebounds, made a layup to push the lead to 10, Price nailed two 3-pointers sandwiched around a layup by junior Dimitri Cooper to slice the lead to 44-42 at the end of three quarters.
“He’s a competitor,” Haire said of Price. “That’s what leaders do. They step up when the team needs them. He’s just a great competitor.”
John Hardin pulled within 48-47 after a layup by junior guard Patrick Anderson, but Najdawi made 3-of-4 free throws and junior Dominique Harding drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to stretch Elizabethtown’s lead to 54-47 with 2:52 left.
But the Bulldogs turned the deficit into a 55-54 lead in less than a minute. Price fed junior Keon Williams along the left baseline for a 3-pointer and then made a pass to senior Daveon Greene for a layup before capping the run with a 3-pointer.
Junior guard Nic McDonald gave the Panthers a 56-55 lead by hitting two free throws with 2 minutes left. Price answered, hitting the second of two foul shots with 4.9 seconds remaining to tie the score and send the game into overtime.
Price scored John Hardin’s first five points in overtime and then Anderson made a 15-foot jumper along the baseline to push the lead to 63-59 with 1:52 remaining. Elizabethtown pulled within one on two occasions – the last at 64-63 – before sophomore guard Elijah Smith and Anderson each made two free throws to seal the win.
“We started doing the things we needed to do to win the game,” Price said. “We weren’t attacking on offense and we weren’t playing with any passion on defense. We can’t play like that against good teams. We need to keep getting better, but it’s still a good win.”
UP NEXT: John Hardin hosts Grayson County at 8 p.m. Friday. Elizabethtown plays at Fort Knox at 6 p.m. Friday in the first game of a boy/girl doubleheader.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.