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Some spirited defensive play has the John Hardin Lady Bulldogs turning a major corner.
In fact, they’ve never been out to this hot of a start.
Senior center Michelle Montgomery posted a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, while freshman point guard Tyra Jackson added 12 points Monday night to lead John Hardin to a 63-14 victory over 17th District rival Central Hardin.
It lifted the Lady Bulldogs (5-1, 1-1 district) to their best start in school history.
Since a 61-28 loss at Elizabethtown on Nov. 30, the Lady Bulldogs have won four straight games – holding three of their opponents to less than 50 points.
Their defense stymied Central Hardin (1-6, 0-1) all night – forcing the Lady Bruins into 22 first-half turnovers, holding them to 3-of-29 (10.3 percent) shooting overall and limiting them to single digits in each period. That’s the type of intensity John Hardin coach Bryan Todd hopes they display the rest of the season.
“That’s what we’re going to be focused on the rest of the year, but we were especially focused on that tonight. I thought we did a pretty good job of that,” said Todd, whose team won its third straight over Central Hardin. “We tried not to give them any open looks. We tried to contest every shot. We gave them a few shots the first half that weren’t contested. But overall I thought we did a really good job.”
Todd has stressed the importance of starting out strong defensively since the loss to Elizabethtown. The Lady Bulldogs got after the Lady Bruins early and didn’t let up the entire first half.
After Central Hardin junior point guard Aislynn Barnes hit a free throw to cut John Hardin’s lead to 2-1 with 6:16 left in the first quarter, the Lady Bulldogs closed the period on a 15-0 run.
John Hardin forced 12 turnovers and held the Lady Bruins to 0-of-7 shooting in the period. Central Hardin made just 1-of-15 shots (6.7 percent) in the first half. The lone field goal came from junior guard Shelby Maggard on a jumper to cut its deficit to 17-3 with 7:41 remaining in the second.
“Their press wasn’t what killed us – it was us not taking care of the ball and us not being patient. Just acting like the ball was a hot potato and that we needed to get rid of it quickly,” said first-year Central Hardin coach Kristina Covington.
Jackson played a key role. She finished with four assists, four rebounds and a team-high three steals. She also helped get Barnes into early foul trouble.
Todd thought Jackson could become a factor Monday night with her ball pressure and quick hands. He told her to keep Barnes, who finished with eight points, out of the paint and she succeeded. Jackson said Monday was fun.
“Cause the last years I’ve been playing Aislynn from Fort Knox and I’ve never been able to guard her,” she said. “So this is the first time I’ve actually been able to guard her.”
Montgomery also had a big night, going over the 1,000-point mark for her career. She entered the game with 996 points and eclipsed 1,000 on a putback with 2:32 left in the first period. Junior wing Nawdya Fletcher added nine points and eight rebounds, while junior guard Zacchea Small had six points and seven boards.
Central Hardin lost its fifth game in a row and is off to its worst start in more than 15 seasons. The Lady Bruins started 1-5 last year and 1-5 in 2009-10.
It marked the third time in the last four games the Lady Bruins have shot less than 30 percent from the field. The Lady Bruins hit just 28 percent of their shots at Collins on Saturday and 24 percent against Breckinridge County last Tuesday. They haven’t made a 3-pointer in their last two games either, going 0-of-15 from long range.
“Our girls have to realize that there are four quarters in the game and just because you don’t play good in the first quarter doesn’t mean that the game is over,” Covington said. “You have to take it one possession at a time. When we get down, we don’t get back up. And when we’re up, we don’t hold the lead because we’re playing not to lose.”
UP NEXT: Central Hardin plays at Elizabethtown at 7:30 p.m. Friday. John Hardin hosts Fort Knox at 6 tonight.
John Groth can be reached at (270) 505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.