Donnie Swiney has been preaching a lot about defense.

When his Elizabethtown Lady Panthers put forth the team effort, that defense is really good.

It was on display Saturday afternoon.

The No. 4-ranked Lady Panthers defeated Henderson County, 63-48 Saturday at Central Hardin in the Bluegrass Cellular New Year’s Classic.

“I told them after the game that when we lock in and play D and we play together on the defensive end, we can be really good and that’s what’s gonna get us where we want to be,” Elizabethtown coach Donnie Swiney said. “That’s what I was looking at tonight.

“I’m proud of the win.”

Elizabethtown trailed, 22-17 with 4:30 left in the second quarter.

A pair of free throws by Xavi Smalley gave the Lady Panthers a 39-26 lead midway through the third period.

“I thought our run at the end of the first half kind of swung the tide and got the momentum back in our favor,” Swiney said. “Coming out at halftime like we did was big. I thought the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the third quarter were the best eight minutes for us. It really shaped what the rest of the game was gonna be like.”

Senior Rickeia Cormier finished with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds for the winners.

“I really didn’t score against North Hardin (three points in a 79-43 win) so I had a mindset this game that I was gonna crash the boards and be more aggressive offensively, work harder and score,” she said. “I feel I did my job for my teammates and myself.”

Ellie Taylor canned a trey at 1:53 of the third period for a 42-31 Elizabethtown lead and Cormier followed with back-to-back baskets for a 47-33 cushion with 40 seconds remaining in the quarter.

“She’s finishing better,” Swiney said of Cormier. “She’s slowing down. That’s what we’ve been really focusing on her is slowing down. She’s gotten better consistently throughout the year and she’s put the time in to get there.

“What Rickeia gets down there on the block is set up by our guards. Being able to penetrate with any of the three — Whitney (Hay), Ellie and Kayra (Freeman), it’s hard to guard. You just have to catch it and finish and Rickeia has gotten so much better.”

Taylor hit two free throws 13 seconds into the fourth quarter and Cormier added two of her own for a 51-38 advantage at 5:38.

Cormier added a bucket at 2:38 to put the Lady Panthers back up by 10. Olivia Yurcisin buried a corner 3 at 1:35 for a 57-46 lead and Taylor canned two more freebies with 71 seconds left to make it 59-46.

“I think our biggest thing for the whole game, but especially at tight times was our defense,” Taylor said. “They ran some pretty good offenses with a lot of screens, so having to talk and do all that on defense — we haven’t been the best at that lately. We definitely showed that we can do it tonight, so that was really good.”

Henderson County (5-6) scored the final 11 points of the first quarter to take a 16-13 lead.

“We got up and we kind of relaxed a little bit, I thought,” Swiney said. “We can’t do that against good teams.”

That run eventually reached 17-4 for that 22-17 lead.

Taylor finished with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists. Hay added 12 points and five rebounds and Freeman seven points and four assists.

“Ellie played really well tonight,” Swiney said. “She’s starting to get more comfortable shooting the basketball. When she’s under control, pushing the basketball when she sees it and backing it up when she doesn’t, she does some really good things for us.”

Elizabethtown (13-0) hosts Central Hardin (6-6) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

ELIZABETHTOWN 63, HENDERSON COUNTY 48

Henderson County 16 8 12 12—48

Elizabethtown 13 16 18 16—63

HENDERSON COUNTY: Hope 23, Wurth 8, Risley 6, Thomas 5, Spalding 4, Hubbard 2. FG: 16. FT: 7-8. 3-pointers: Hope 5, Risley 2, Wurth 2.

ELIZABETHTOWN: Taylor 19, Cormier 17, Hay 12, Freeman 7, Smalley 5, Yurcisin 3. FG: 19-46. FT: 20-30. 3-pointers: 5-13; Taylor 2, Freeman, Cormier, Yurcisin.

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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