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North Hardin’s shooting percentage from the field in the second and third quarters matched that of the temperature outside Ron Bevars Gymnasium – frigid.
After shooting 17.6 percent in the first half, the Trojans went from ice cold to red hot in a matter of minutes to rally from a nine-point deficit for a 50-47 victory over the Elizabethtown Panthers on Tuesday night in a 17th District game.
“We just started playing more together,” said North Hardin senior Scotty Sterusky, who scored six points – all in the final quarter. “We were able to get out more in transition and that helped. But we started playing together and started doing things better.”
How were the Trojans able to change their fortunes so quickly? They attributed it to several factors, including their defense. North Hardin began to pressure Elizabethtown with its full-court press. The Panthers had six turnovers, including three straight to begin the fourth quarter.
“That was very important,” said North Hardin senior Ruben Gosa, who had 16 points, five rebounds and four assists. “Defense creates offense. We started putting pressure on them. We started doing what the coaches told us. We wanted to play faster. We take a lot of pride in our defense and we had to step it up.”
North Hardin (15-7, 4-3 district) made eight of its final 11 shots to finish 17-of-39 from the field (43.6 percent) as it finally began to solve Elizabethtown’s 1-3-1 half-court defense. The Trojans also made 13-of-16 free throws, including going 5-for-6 in the final 38 seconds.
“We finally started attacking,” North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said. “Coach (Michael) Cofer showed them at halftime how to attack it. We didn’t hit the gaps and we never got the ball to the wings. We never attacked. We threw the ball from guard to guard. We really picked it up (in the fourth quarter).”
Elizabethtown (10-7, 2-3) let a golden opportunity slip away and now faces the possibility of being the fourth seed. The Panthers, who led for much of the first three quarters, still had a shot at the top seed if they won their final four district games. North Hardin can wrap up the second seed with a win over Central Hardin on Friday.
“We kind of fell apart in the fourth quarter,” Elizabethtown coach James Haire said. “We looked like a team that is very immature. They did what they had to do to win. They executed their offense, but we didn’t adjust to it at all. If a guy beats you once, you’re not going to let it happen again and again.
“We had a nine-point lead and it evaporated so fast,” he added. “We talk about leadership. We do the same thing in practice. If a practice starts going bad, nobody steps up and turns it around. For three quarters, we played well and I thought we were on the verge of opening the game up a little. We need someone to settle us down and get people in the right spots to execute our offense. We need to run our offense through to get a good shot to get us comfortable again.”
Trailing 38-31 entering the fourth quarter, Gosa threw a pass underneath to senior Tyler Landry for a layup and then Sterusky came up with a steal for a layup. After another Elizabethtown turnover, Landry made another layup to slice the lead to 38-35 with 5:54 remaining.
“Our defense is the key,” Sterusky said. “That’s what got us back in the game. We picked it up on defense and that helped our offense.”
After junior guard Nic McDonald drove in for a layup, the Trojans reeled off six consecutive points to take a 41-40 lead – their first since the first quarter – with 4:20 left.
Elizabethtown junior Dominique Harding made a pair of free throws to put the Panthers ahead by one, but Gosa drained a 15-footer and senior guard Nick Lewis made a floater along the baseline to give the Trojans a 45-42 lead with 1:49 remaining.
The Panthers had two chances to cut into the lead, but missed two front ends of a one-and-one. Sophomore guard Tyronn King stretched the lead to 46-42 after hitting 1-of-2 free throws, but McDonald, who scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds, nailed a 3-pointer to slice the lead to 46-45 with 20 seconds left.
Gosa answered with two free throws, and after a putback by senior Chas Jones, Sterusky hit two foul shots with a second left to seal the win.
“We’re never going to quit,” Gosa said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re behind by 30, we’re going to keep playing hard. In the huddle, we always say ‘Trojan pride’ and that means something. We’re never going to give up. We’re going to keep fighting.”
UP NEXT: North Hardin hosts Central Hardin at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Elizabehtown hosts Jeffersontown at 6 p.m. Thursday in the first game of a boy/girl doubleheader.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.