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BOYS' SWEET 16 BASKETBALL: Fleming County appears to be a mirror image of John Hardin (03/06)

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By Chuck Jones

The John Hardin Bulldogs feel like they’re talking about themselves when discussing the Fleming County Panthers.

That’s how similar the first-round opponents of the KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament are. The teams meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Rupp Arena.

Fleming County has a school-record 28 wins. The Bulldogs did that as well this season.

The Panthers have a dynamic playmaker at point guard in junior Darion Burns. John Hardin counters with senior point guard Brandon Price.

Fleming County likes to play an up-tempo style, using a variety of full-court presses to force teams into turnovers. Sound familiar? The Bulldogs like to do the same thing.

The Panthers have two 1,000-point scorers in Burns and junior forward Troy Steward. John Hardin counters with two of its own in Price and senior forward Daveon Greene.

“They remind me a lot of us,” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “They like to pressure the basketball. They are aggressive and they attack the basket. They do a lot of the same things as we do.”

The Panthers (28-6) are on an eight-game winning streak since losing back-to-back games to Russell and Lexington Henry Clay on Feb. 8-9. They made the state tournament for the first time as a member of the 16th Region. The Panthers advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1974, ’98 and ’99 by winning the 10th Region.

Fleming County, which averages 66.9 points per game, has a balanced attack with four players scoring more than 10 points a game. Steward leads the team at 18.4 points a game followed by Burns’ 17.3, junior guard Austin Crisp’s 10.9 and junior forward Brady Saunders’ 10.6.

“They are kind of like us,” Price said. “They have tremendous guards. They are going to be tough. We have to be prepared and focused.”

The Panthers are dangerous behind the 3-point arc. Steward has made 77-of-229 3-pointers (33.6 percent), while Crisp is shooting 34.1 percent (31-of-91). Senior forward Desmond McAdams has hit 21 3s.

“Fleming County is real good,” John Hardin sophomore Elijah Smith said. “They have a real good point guard and they have good shooters. We’ve dealt with good players all year. We’re not going to change our game. We have to come out and play John Hardin basketball.”

John Hardin (28-3) has been on top of its game the last two months. The Bulldogs are riding a 20-game winning streak since losing to Cincinnati Princeton, 52-51 in Lexington Catholic’s Republic Bank Holiday Classic on Dec. 29.

Price averages 17.9 points and 6.1 assists a game, while Greene averages 17.7 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. The Bulldogs, who are scoring 72.1 points per game, aren’t a two-man show. Junior guard Keon Williams and Patrick Anderson are averaging 12.8 points and 10.1 points, respectively.

“We need to keep playing like we have been,” Greene said. “We don’t need to do anything different. If they run a man-to-man (defense), we need to run what we’ve been doing. If they play zone, we’ll run our zone offenses. We’ll use our normal defensive schemes. There’s nothing we’re going to do differently. We’re not changing a bunch of things. We need to do the things that got us here.”

The Panthers are limiting opponents to 53.4 points per game, while John Hardin is giving up 55.2 points a game. The Bulldogs are forcing 17.8 turnovers a game and they are getting six more rebounds than their opponents.

John Hardin has held opponents to 42.6 percent shooting from the field and 26.6 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Defense is going to be key in a match-up of talented teams.

“I heard they have a good team,” Williams said. “They have to be a pretty good team. Look where they are as a team. We’re not going to overlook them. We don’t overlook anyone. We have to come out and play our game.”

The Bulldogs are making their second consecutive trip to the state tournament. They hope that experience can help them this year.

“At the state tournament, it’s about who settles down faster,” Price said. “We have to play our game and do the things we’ve been doing all year.”

Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com