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Elizabethtown coach James Haire might have had a premonition Tuesday.
Haire had an eerie feeling during school his Panthers might not be focused on the game against Louisville Trinity, and it turned out to be true.
The fourth-ranked Shamrocks jumped out to a 24-7 lead less than 9 minutes into the game and then held off the Panthers for a 72-64 victory at Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium.
“They’re a good team, but a lot of it had to do with us,” Haire said. “We were not in the right frame of mind. I never felt like it. We could tell in school we were way too relaxed for a game day. It was a carbon copy of the game Saturday night. We’ve had slow starts, but not like this. We can’t do that.”
It’s the second straight game in which Elizabethtown struggled to get going. On Saturday night, Louisville Male raced out to a 22-point lead in the first half. The Panthers rallied in the second half, but they still lost, 71-70.
“We can’t start games much worse than the last two games,” said Elizabethtown senior guard Nic McDonald, who had 19 points and five assists. “I can’t explain it. It’s very difficult to come back when you get behind 10 or 15 points early like that. We did a good job of jumping back but we can’t start like that.”
After winning 10 consecutive games, the Panthers (17-6) have dropped back-to-back contests for the first time since December. They don’t have to look long for answers during the losing skid.
“We can’t have that,” said Elizabethtown senior guard Ja’Von Cotton, who scored 13 points. “We have to find a way to get ourselves ready to play. They’re a good team, but we can play with them. We have to play well in the beginning and not put ourselves in a hole.”
Trinity (21-4) was coming off a 70-65 loss to Scott County on Saturday night, but showed no signs of a hangover. The Shamrocks scored the first nine points and stretched the lead to 17 after junior Raymond Spalding’s putback with 7:13 left in the second quarter.
“We came out with energy and focus,” Trinity coach Mike Szabo said. “We played really well and we shared the ball. We executed well on defense. At the beginning, we played well on both ends of the floor.”
Cotton drained back-to-back 3-pointers and then McDonald made a layup to pull the Panthers within 24-15 with 5:48 remaining before halftime.
The Shamrocks got a big lift from their bench as sophomore forward Kelshawn Knight-Goff, junior guard Jax Levitch and sophomore guard Gabe Schmitt combined to score 11 points to push the lead to 38-23 at halftime.
Elizabethtown opened the third quarter with an 8-0 spurt to slice the lead to 38-31 with 5:08 left, but Trinity answered with a 10-0 run capped by a Spalding dunk to extend the lead to 48-31.
Trailing 61-44, the Panthers began to slowly chip away at the lead. Cotton made four free throws and McDonald drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 63-51 with 2:10 remaining.
After Spalding made two foul shots to make it 66-53, Cotton made 1-of-2 free throws, junior Austin Freyberger drained a 3-pointer and McDonald hit a pair of free throws to get within 66-59 with 54.2 seconds left.
“I thought we competed better,” Haire said. “We challenged them better. But my mind keeps going back to the first quarter. They got every rebound and it was so easy for them to score. They were able to get too comfortable that first quarter.”
Senior Trey Ivory, who scored 19 points, made two free throws, but McDonald converted a three-point play. After Schmitt only made 1-of-2 from the foul line, Freyberger, who had seven points off the bench, nailed two free throws to pull within 69-64 with 29.2 seconds left.
The Panthers had a chance to get closer when junior Zach Patterson came up with a steal, but McDonald missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key and the Shamrocks sealed the win with a layup with 11 seconds remaining.
“We can learn a lot about ourselves from this loss,” Cotton said. “It’s about getting yourself to play at a higher level. They’re a really good team and we played with them. We need to start off the game better because these are the type of teams we’re going to need to beat.”
LOUISVILLETRINITY 72, ELIZABETHTOWN 64
Trinity 22 16 10 24—72
Elizabethtown 7 16 11 30—64
Trey Ivory 18, Raymond Spalding 16, Daniel Ramser 10, KelShawn Knight-Goff 8, Michael Stafford 7, Jax Levitch 6, Craig Owens 4, Gabe Schmitt 3. FG: 24-42. FT: 20-33. 3-pointers: 4-14 (Ramser 2-5, Ivory 1-2, Levitch 1-3, Spalding 0-1, Schmitt 0-3). Rebounds: 25 (Spalding 9). Assists: 12 (Ivory 3).
Nic McDonald 19, Dominique Harding 15, Ja’Von Cotton 13, Zach Patterson 7, Austin Freyberger 7, Guy Williams 3. FG: 18-40. FT: 22-29. 3-pointers: 6-21 (Cotton 2-4, Patterson 1-2, Williams 1-2, McDonald 1-3, Freyberger 1-4, Jackson Gillock 0-1, Tristan Johnson 0-2, Ryan Harris 0-3). Rebounds: 29 (Patterson 8). Assists: 11 (McDonald 5).
UP NEXT: Elizabethtown plays at Bardstown at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.