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5th Region Tournament: Hawks fall to E'town

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By Ryan O'Gara, Landmark News Service

 LEBANON –The shots weren’t falling for the Elizabethtown Panthers in the early going Thursday night, so they turned to their defense to ignite them.

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And once the Panthers knocked down a few, it was smooth sailing from there against the LaRue County Hawks.

Elizabethtown battled back from an early eight-point deficit behind a relentless man-to-man defense combined with several scoring bursts from senior guard Nic McDonald to pull away from LaRue County, 64-48 in the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament quarterfinals at the Roby Dome at Marion County.

“It was definitely our defense,”said McDonald, who scored a game-high 22 points and handed out four assists. “We didn’t come out with enough intensity, so we had to pressure the ball more and that helped us get out to a lead and have more confidence in our shots.”

Elizabethtown (22-8) advances to play the Taylor County Cardinals (26-6) in the semifinals Monday. The Cardinals upended the Panthers, 73-61 on Jan. 2. Taylor County escaped with a 60-59 victory over Thomas Nelson.

Senior guard Ja’Von Cotton added 11 points for the Panthers, while junior forward Zach Patterson had 10 points and six rebounds.

Patterson said the game was strangely similar to the first time the teams met, which Elizabethtown won 64-38 on Jan. 27.

“It was a slow start, and we were playing right into their hands, shot a lot of 3s,”Patterson said. “Our defense was stagnant. Eventually we turned it on and got a few shots to fall, a couple easy ones and we just rolled from there.”

LaRue County (16-14) opened the contest in a tightly-packed 1-3-1 zone to take away Elizabethtown senior center Dominique Harding and force the Panthers to shoot from the outside.

It worked as Elizabethtown started 1-of-9 from beyond the arc and went scoreless for nearly 5 minutes to allow LaRue County to grab a 13-5 lead with 1:50 left in the opening quarter.

“I think we got confused. We thought tonight was going to be a 3-point shooting contest,” said Elizabethtown coach James Haire. “It doesn’t work like that. Once we kind of got settled down, our defense got us back in the game and got us a few easy buckets. I think guys settled down a little bit.”

That was all according to plan for the Hawks, who got 16 points and eight rebounds from All-Tournament selection Caleb Sheffer.

“We had to try to take something away,”said LaRue County coach Paul Childress. “With their driving ability and ability to get to the rim, we just had to kind of roll the dice a little bit. They missed some shots early on and with our size, we were able to rebound a little bit.”

LaRue County outrebounded Elizabethtown, 35-28 but it was turnovers that did the Hawks in. They had 17, and the Panthers capitalized.

McDonald had a steal and three-point play, junior forward Tristan Johnson had a steal and basket and Johnson tipped in senior guard Ryan Harris’ miss, which was also off a steal –all in a span of 33 seconds –to pull the Panthers within 13-12.

After junior guard Micah Wiseman found senior guard Michael Neal for a layup to give LaRue County a 17-14 edge, Elizabethtown heated up.

McDonald found Patterson and Harris for 3s to jumpstart a 17-2 run. McDonald, who capped the spurt with two floaters, said getting easy baskets off their defense relaxed them a bit.

“That opened up more drives into the paint and really boosted our level of play,”he said.

LaRue County, which also got 12 points from senior guard Kody Key-Close and 10 from Neal, rallied within 46-38 late in the third quarter after trailing by 16 just after halftime.

McDonald, though, drained a deep 3 with 2 seconds left in the third, and then opened the fourth with another 3 and a drive to the basket. Patterson’s bucket made it 56-38 with 5:49 remaining.

The Hawks, meanwhile, went scoreless for nearly the first five minutes of the fourth until senior guard Thomas Harman hit a 3.

“The speed of the game got real (fast), and we just got tired,”Key-Close said. “We’re all hyped up and then you get into the game and want to go real fast, but you have to control it.”