LEXINGTON — Elizabethtown battled back from a double-digit deficit Friday but Woodford County’s free-throw shooting down the stretch was too much to overcome in the state quarterfinals of the UK HealthCare Boys’ Basketball Sweet 16 Tournament at Rupp Arena.
With the 59-48 decision, E’town’s season ended with a record of 24-10. Woodford County becomes one of four teams with a chance at the title.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to be with,” said Panthers coach James Haire, who noted that he was carrying the memories of former players who never reached the state tournament, late E’town Hall of Fame coach Ray Vencill and his own late mother with him into Friday’s contest.
“My hat’s off to Woodford County, they played an exceptionally good game. When you hit free throws down the stretch the way they did, it usually turns into very positive things for your team,” Haire said. “They did a lot of great things. I still thought we had a chance to come out of this thing with a win, but sometimes you fall short.”
Woodford County jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first 2:44. After that, however, E’town settled in — slicing the deficit to 14-13 on J’Quan Williams’ layup with 1:28 left in the opening quarter. Four consecutive free throws pushed Woodford County to a 18-13 lead at the first break.
The Panthers’ Wyatt McAdams knocked down a 3 to open the second period, but the Yellow Jackets answered with another 8-0 run to build a 26-17 advantage midway through the quarter.
A layup by Taquan Townsend and a bucket by center Ayden Evans pulled E’town to within 26-21 at intermission.
Woodford County extended its lead to 34-23 on Santonio Waide’s layup with 4:59 left in the third frame, but a 7-0 spurt — powered by five points from Trey Durbin — brought the Panthers back to within four minutes less than two minutes later. The Yellow Jackets scored six of the quarter’s final nine points for a 40-33 advantage.
Back-to-back scores by Evans cut Woodford County’s lead to 44-42 with 4:30 to go, but the Yellow Jackets eventually pulled away after shooting 17-of-20 from the free-throw line (85%) in the fourth quarter.
“I think what got us back into it was the defensive end,” Haire said. “We created some turnovers that led to some easy baskets. These guys, they don’t stop fighting. We don’t always do everything correctly, but they do play hard all the time, and I think it was their energy level on the defensive end that helped us get back into the game.”
Evans scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds, blocked five shots and also added three assists and three steals to pace E’town as he did in the first-round victory Wednesday over McCracken County.
JuJuan Williams chipped in 11 points for EHS. Obian Howard finished with a team-high six assists with three steals. The Panthers shot 41.9% from the field, including 4-of-9 beyond the arc (44.4%) and converted 8-of-12 free throws (66.7%) with 20 turnovers.
Jasper Johnson and Aden Nelson scored 16 points apiece to pace Woodford County, while Waide added 12 points. The Yellow Jackets shot 38.1% from the floor, 2-of-9 from 3-point range (22.2%) and 25-of-29 at the foul line (86.2%) with 13 turnovers.
“It was a hard-fought game against a good team,” Woodford County coach Jaron Brown said. “At the beginning of the game and going into halftime, I thought we were playing with them because we didn’t get a shot — we kept turning it over. I knew after halftime we’d come back out and play hard, and that’s what we did and ended up winning the game.”
Woodford County (22-12) advances and will meet top-ranked Warren Central (32-1) in Saturday’s semifinals.
WOODFORD COUNTY 18 8 14 19 — 59
ELIZABETHTOWN 13 8 12 15 — 48
Woodford County (59) — Johnson 16, Nelson 16, Waide 12, Smith 9, Jenkins 2, McCreary 2, Stark 2.
Elizabethtown (48) — A. Evans 12, Ju. Williams 11, Durbin 8, Townsend 6, McAdams 4, Howard 3, Jq. Williams 2, A. Evans 2.
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