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LEXINGTON — The John Hardin Bulldogs had a bad case of déjà vu Friday night during the KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament quarterfinals.
Like their quarterfinal loss last year to Scott County, the Bulldogs fell behind and had to play catch-up the entire second half. Unlike the 61-40 loss to the Cardinals, they rallied to pull even at 50-all, giving them newfound hope they could reach the semifinals for the first time in school history.
The Montgomery County Indians, though, had the same plan, scoring six straight points to pull away for a 66-57 victory to end John Hardin’s magical season.
“We busted our butts to get back in the game, and that took a toll on our bodies,” John Hardin senior point guard Brandon Price said. “(Montgomery) made plays down the stretch, and that’s what good ballclubs do.”
John Hardin was trying to become the first 5th Region team to reach the semifinals since North Hardin did it in 2002. A 5-minute stretch at the end of the first half and the start of the second allowed the Indians to overcome a shaky start to build a 10-point lead.
“I was proud of the grit we showed,” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “But we ran out of gas. To me, we got down and we dug ourselves too big of a hole. All the energy we spent getting back into it we just ran out of gas. It reminded me of last year’s loss to Scott County.”
The Bulldogs won a school-record 29 games and saw their program-best 21-game win streak come to an end with the loss. But the ending was an all-to-familiar story for the Bulldogs, who finished 29-4 this year.
“We worked all year to get back to here,” John Hardin junior guard Patrick Anderson said. “It’s the same feeling as last year. But we still have a lot to be proud of. We took John Hardin to another level.”
And it looked like they might make history along the way. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 16-9 after Anderson’s layup with 48 seconds left in the first quarter. Anderson was the spark plug, scoring 10 points and hitting 2-of-3 3-pointers.
The lead swelled to nine after Anderson stole the ball from junior Bryan Wallace and drove in for a layup 16 seconds into the second quarter.
“I know it was do or die,” said Anderson, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “My teammates got on me a little after last game. I was a little nervous the first game, but I was more relaxed this game.”
After Montgomery County pulled within 20-14, senior Ricky Burns had a tip-in and Anderson made 1-of-2 free throws to give John Hardin a 23-14 lead with 4:18 remaining before halftime.
The Bulldogs shut down Montgomery County senior Omar Prewitt, who came in averaging 23.3 points per game. Prewitt didn’t score until 3:34 left in the second quarter on two free throws and his first field goal wasn’t until nearly a minute later. He finished with only 11 points.
“Any coach would feel good about (containing Prewitt), but at the same time we had talked as a staff that his supporting crew is pretty good,” Wells said. “Wallace stepped up and hit some big 3s. We had made a decision to back off him, and he burned us pretty good, especially in the second half in some clutch situations when we were making a run.”
Montgomery County (33-4) used a 16-0 run spanning the second and third quarters to take control. John Hardin missed six shots and turned the ball over four times as it saw a 26-20 lead turn into a 10-point deficit.
“We started slow, but we hung in there and hung in there,” said Montgomery County coach Happy Osborne, the former Georgetown College coach.
Trailing 47-36, senior forward Daveon Greene made a short jumper in the lane with 55 seconds left in the third quarter, and then Price had an old-fashioned three-point play to start the fourth. Anderson and Greene each made 1-of-2 free throws to cut the lead to 47-43 with 6:42 remaining.
Wallace, who scored a game-high 21 points, answered with a 3-pointer, but junior guard Keon Williams drained a 3-pointer from the left baseline, Price made a runner in the lane and Greene had a layup to tie the score at 50 with 5 minutes remaining.
“We never blink,” Osborne said. “The worst thing that’s going to happen to us is that we have to go back to Mount Sterling.”
The Indians didn’t blink, running off six straight points. John Hardin, which turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions after pulling even, didn’t get any closer than four the rest of the way. The Bulldogs, who shot just 39.3 percent, made only three of their final 10 shots.
“I’m really proud of the kids,” Wells said. “I thought we missed a lot of shots we usually make. I thought we used so much energy to get back in it and then we missed some shots. But I’m so proud of this team. They never quit battling.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.