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One of the biggest moments in Elizabethtown’s victory over North Hardin to win its record eighth consecutive Girls’ 17th District Basketball Tournament didn’t even take place on the court.
It came in the locker room as the Lady Panthers found themselves in a 20-17 hole. One might expect Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd to give a paint-peeling speech at halftime to rile his Lady Panthers up after a lackluster first half.
But Mudd did exactly the opposite. Like always, he took a calm approach to motivate his young squad.
The Lady Panthers were frustrated offensively. They shot only 30.4 percent from the field in the first half. What was even worse, they missed 6-of-8 free throws. Their defense wasn’t bad, but the Lady Trojans had capitalized on their chances, including from the foul line.
So instead of going on a rant, Mudd spoke to the Lady Panthers like it was just another game. He pointed out areas for improvement and change. Mudd showed nerves of steel, which in turn gave his players confidence they could turn the game around.
“He was pretty calm,” said Elizabethtown freshman Erin Boley, who scored 12 of her team-high 22 points in the second half. “He was really positive. That helps. If he’s always calm and has faith in us, that gives us faith in ourselves that we were going to win this game.”
That’s how the Lady Panthers were able to turn the three-point deficit into a 10-point lead in less than 6 minutes. Instead of being rattled by a shaky first-half performance, they played with the type of composure of a veteran team, scoring eight consecutive points to start the third quarter.
“He thought we were scared the first half,” said Elizabethtown sophomore Reauna Cleaver, who scored all but two of her 13 points during the third-quarter surge. “We were getting good shots, but they weren’t going in. We did a lot better in the second half. We were hustling and we finally corrected what we were doing wrong. We knew if he wasn’t worried, we should be fine.”
Mudd made subtle adjustments. It was more about execution than making wholesale changes. It also helped the Lady Panthers to start hitting shots to give their confidence a lift. The Lady Panthers shot a sizzling 69.2 percent in the third quarter, including 3-pointers by junior Kinsey Mudd and Boley.
“I thought we were getting the shots we wanted in the first half, but we couldn’t make them,” Tim Mudd said. “We were able to do that the second half. Defensively, you have to give North Hardin a lot of credit. They did a good job and made us work. We made a few adjustments to the way they were playing. We isolated Erin more to get her the ball and we did a better job getting the ball inside to Reauna.”
It wasn’t a perfect 16 minutes of basketball, but it was close. The team that could do very little right in the first half, did very little wrong in the second half in this one.
It couldn’t have come at a more important time. Winning the district means the Lady Panthers avoid a possible quarterfinal matchup with top-ranked Marion County in the 5th Region Tournament.
“He told us at halftime we could play better,” Boley said. “We knew we didn’t play to our potential in the first half. He didn’t have to tell us that. He told us what we needed to do better. I thought we definitely executed better in the second half. We did a better job of handling their pressure. They do play really physical on defense and we handled it better, too.”
The comeback started with Mudd’s calm approach and his players drew strength from that. Champions find ways to win games, ways to overcome adversity. That clearly explains how the Lady Panthers have managed to win 15 of the last 18 district titles. They never lose sight of the prize, no matter the situation.
The celebration at the end of the game was put into motion by a composed Mudd at halftime in a quiet locker room.
No one saw it, but it turned out to be the game-changing moment.
Chuck Jones is the sports editor for The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.