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As his team huddled around him after the first quarter, LaRue County coach Paul Childress reminded the Hawks there was plenty of time left to make a run Saturday afternoon against the North Oldham Mustangs.
Trailing by 14 at the time, the Hawks methodically chipped away. After taking its first lead in the fourth quarter, LaRue County won going away, 66-52 in the Nathan McCurry Classic at John Hardin.
“We didn’t really pay attention to the score,” said LaRue County senior guard Kody Key-Close, who had a game-high 23 points and seven rebounds. “We just knew we had to fight back by taking smart shots, make smart basketball plays and stop them on defense and we’d have a chance to win.”
Junior forward Caleb Sheffer (14 points, 12 rebounds) and senior forward Tyler Howell (10 points, 10 rebounds) led the Hawks’ 40-24 rebounding advantage.
It was a much-needed confidence boost for the Hawks, who suffered a three-point setback to 18th District rival Caverna on Friday night.
“Down 14, especially after a bad loss, we were just hungry,” senior guard Mike Neal said. “We wanted that win and needed it.”
Neal was a major factor in the second half after playing less than 1 minute in the first half. He started the third quarter, however, and didn’t leave the floor. While his eight points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals were important, it was his defense on North Oldham junior guard Jonathan Henry which lifted the Hawks.
Henry scored 14 points before halftime to give the Mustangs a 33-26 lead at the break. But with Neal hounding him, Henry scored only five in the second half.
“It’s just knowing what he was going to do,” Neal said. “In the first half, I noticed he didn’t look to shoot (from the outside) at all. I backed off him a lot. On dead ball situations, you man up – scream, shout, slobber, all of that and just get in his head.”
Added Childress: “(Neal) gave us a great spark. After the game, I told him that if I had a game ball, I’d give it to him. We’re looking for that guy who can come in and guard an athletic guard like he did tonight.”
Junior guard Micah Wiseman, who played nearly the entire second half at point guard and finished with 11 points and three assists, scored on a layup 26 seconds into the second half to kick-start a 12-6 run to pull the Hawks within one.
Sheffer’s corner jumper with 26 seconds left in the third quarter began a 10-0 spurt during which Neal’s rebound and lead pass to Key-Close gave LaRue County its first lead at 43-42 with 6:46 to play.
From there, the Hawks made 13-of-16 from the free-throw line to close it out.
The Hawks had 10 turnovers in the first half but just four in the second. It reflected in their defense, too, as they held the Mustangs to 30 percent (7-of-23) shooting.
“When we started taking care of the basketball a little better, they had to get shots off their half-court sets,” Childress said. “We did a good job with that.”
LaRue County, which shot 65 percent (11-of-17) in the second half and 48 percent (21-of-44) overall, hopes this is a fresh start after losing 3-of-4.
“We said in the locker room we are 1-0, just the start of a seven-game season going into the district tournament,” Key-Close said. “Just do everything we can to get as much momentum as we can going into the tournament.”
LARUE COUNTY 66, NORTH OLDHAM 52
North Oldham 22 11 10 9—52
LaRue County 8 18 14 26—66
North Oldham (9-11)
Jonathan Henry 19, Trevor Burton 11, Adam Klingeman 8, Derek Powell 4, Chris Burton 4, Justin Cundiff 3, Taylor Heckenberg 3. FG: 21-57. FT: 10-16. 3-pointers: 2-22 (Heckenberg 1-4, T. Burton 1-9, C. Burton 0-5, Cundiff 0-2, Duncan Gibbs 0-2). Rebs: 21 (Klingeman 6, T. Burton 3, Paris Hammock 3). Assists: 5 (Henry 2). Steals: 7 (Henry 2).
LaRue County (12-10)
Kody Key-Close 23, Caleb Sheffer 14, Micah Wiseman 11, Tyler Howell 10, Mike Neal 8. FG: 21-44. FT: 22-30. 3-pointers: 2-10 (Key-Close 2-7, Sheffer 0-1, Dawson 0-1, Harman 0-1). Rebs: 40 (Sheffer 12, Howell 10). Assists: 16 (Howell 3, Sheffer 3, Wiseman 3). Steals: 3 (Neal 2, Key-Close 1).
UP NEXT: LaRue County plays at Meade County at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or email@example.com.