The LaRue County Hawks didn’t take long Jan. 2 to christen their newly refurbished hardwood during the opening round of the National Guard Holiday Classic.
Playing on Corky Cox Court for the first time, freshman guard Cameron Dawson scored off the opening tip just 4 seconds into the game and the Hawks never trailed in a 47-36 win over North Bullitt.
The court was sanded, sealed and painted during the winter break.
“I like it because it’s nice and sticky and you don’t slide everywhere,” said LaRue County senior forward Kody Key-Close said. “You can actually plant and cut now.”
LaRue County senior forward Tyler Howell, who had a game-high three blocks and also posted his fourth straight double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds), said the Hawks owed it to the school to play hard after being rewarded with their new surface.
“We appreciate them coming in and fixing it up all nice for us,” Howell said. “Now we have to keep it going. We’ve won two in a row and we need to get on a roll.”
The Hawks got on a roll on the boards early and didn’t allow the Eagles (3-6) to score a second-chance basket until the final seconds of the game. Howell had three putbacks in a 2-minute span in the second quarter to extend the Hawks’ lead to double digits for the first time.
“That was huge because he helped continue our runs and stopped their runs with those rebounds,” Key-Close said. “It’s good to know as a shooter that if you miss, 90 percent of the time he’ll be there to get it.”
LaRue County, which outrebounded the Eagles, 31-19, also got eight rebounds from Key-Close and five from junior forward Caleb Sheffer.
“I told the guys before the game that we had to attack the glass on them,” Howell said. “They were smaller than us and we had to use that to our advantage.”
The Hawks also used having Key-Close on their side to their advantage.
North Bullitt didn’t have anybody who could match Key-Close’s physicality or versatility. He punished the Eagles inside with several drives and baskets in the lane, but also spread out the Eagles by hitting mid-range jumpers and one of the Hawks’ three 3-pointers.
Key-Close finished with a game-high 19 points to go along with three steals and two assists en route to Player of the Game honors.
“I was just trying to help my team as much as possible,” said Key-Close, who scored seven of his team’s first 13 points. “I wasn’t honestly thinking about the award.”
LaRue County held North Bullitt to just 25 percent shooting from the field (5-of-20) in the first half to take a 24-10 halftime lead. The Eagles never drew closer than six points the rest of the way.
“I think that was our best defensive half of the season,” said LaRue County coach Paul Childress, whose team has won its last 10 games in the tournament. “And that was something that we needed because we had been struggling defensively.”
Micah Wiseman scored 7; Caleb Sheffer scored 6; and Cameron Dawson scored 5.