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The Elizabethtown Panthers have two players with plenty of size in sophomore center Zane Najdawi and junior center Dominique Harding, and Tuesday night they demonstrated just how lethal that combination can be.
Najdawi and Harding flexed their muscles and the Panthers began picking up steam after halftime to knock off the North Hardin Trojans, 73-65 in a 17th District game at Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium.
“This was a very important win,” Harding said. “After losing to Central (Hardin) and they beat Central, maybe they underestimated us. They gave us a good game, but we came out on top. If we’re playing with intensity and as a team, and if we’re feeding the ball inside, we can be pretty good.”
The “Twin Towers” were too much for the Trojans. Najdawi scored 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting, while Harding added 13 points, making all six of his field goals. The duo combined for 19 points in the second half to overcome a three-point halftime deficit.
“We wanted to get the ball inside because we knew (North Hardin senior center Tyler) Landry was in foul trouble,” Najdawi said. “We wanted to get it down low and take it to them. We were confident we could score. We work on those moves every day in practice. We know how to score once we get the ball down there.”
Elizabethtown (9-3, 2-2 district) shot 66.7 percent from the field, including 9-of-11 the third quarter. In the first half, the Panthers had 14 turnovers, but they only had four in the final 16 minutes.
“North is very aggressive and they’ve got more quickness and athletes than we have,” Elizabethtown coach James Haire said. “They gave us some problems. We didn’t take care of the basketball. I think both units executed well the first half when we took care of the basketball.
“I think it’s that simple for everyone,” he added. “If we execute and get the ball to the open people in the right spots, it’s that simple for everyone, not just us.”
North Hardin (12-6, 3-2) struggled to generate offense in the second half. After scoring 38 points in the first two quarters, the Trojans made only seven of their 23 attempts after halftime and had just three points off Panther turnovers after 15 in the first half.
“They just came out and outworked us,” North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said. “We didn’t have any answers for them down low. We lost our composure once we got down. No excuses. They just kicked our butts.”
After trailing by as many as five in the first 3 minutes, the Trojans built a 22-16 lead with 6:46 remaining in the second quarter after sophomore Tyronn King made a short jumper along the baseline. Elizabethtown came back to grab a 29-28 lead after two free throws by sophomore Zach Patterson, who had 10 points and six rebounds.
With the score tied at 35, senior guard Scotty Sterusky, who had 14 points and six rebounds, made 1-of-2 free throws with 50.7 seconds left and then senior guard Ruben Gosa hit two with six-tenths of a second to give the Trojans a 38-35 halftime lead.
“We came out and thought we had the game already won,” said Gosa, who scored a game-high 23 points. “We didn’t come out with the same fire as we did the first half. We’ll go in tomorrow, practice hard and get ready for the next game.”
Najdawi scored five straight Elizabethtown points and then Harding scored six consecutive points to help the Panthers take a 46-42 lead with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter.
The game went back and forth the next 7 minutes with the lead changing hands three times and featuring two ties – the last at 60 after a Gosa 3-pointer.
The Panthers, though, went back to Najdawi and Harding, who combined to spark an 8-0 run for a 68-60 lead with 2:42 left. North Hardin didn’t get any closer than six the rest of the game.
“We picked up the intensity the second half,” Harding said. “Coach Haire has been telling us we needed to do that the last few games. We had been turning the ball over when it was thrown inside and we fixed that. When we get the ball inside, we’re hard to stop.”
UP NEXT: Elizabethtown plays at Henderson County at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. North Hardin plays at Taylor County at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.