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Decimated by injuries, the Carroll County boys basketball team easily could have hung their heads and given up on the remainder of the season. But the Panthers refused and have accepted their new roles and played tough against the No. 2-ranked team in the 8th Region Thursday night.
Carroll hung with the Anderson County Bearcats the entire way and was within four points at the start of the fourth quarter. But the home team could not get enough shots to fall, while the Bearcats ran down the clock and hit enough free throws down the stretch to defeat Carroll 63-54.
“We missed a couple shots. In a game like that where your percentage of possessions that you score on needs to be pretty good, we just went through a couple stretches where we didn’t score and they did,” head coach Carroll Yager said. “I thought our effort was superb. I couldn’t ask for guys to play any harder than they played.”
Senior Jay Damron scored a career-high 18 points and also dished out four assists. “He handled the ball well,” Yager said. “He just played good, smart, had his head up looking around, made good plays.”
Fellow senior Trey Boles led the team with 19 points. Junior Dakota Corbin also hit double figures with 10 points and had a strong all-around game with seven rebounds, five steals and two assists. Also scoring for the Panthers were Jacob Wise with five points and John Michael Adams with two points.
The Panthers got off to a strong start, as Boles scored on the first possession of the game, and Damron was fouled on a jumper and hit both free throws. Their biggest lead was 8-2 before the Bearcats settled down and started hitting some shots.
Down 10-6 after a runner in the lane by Carroll’s Corbin, Anderson’s Austin Cummins hit three 3-pointers in a row, 15-11. Carroll’s Adams got a put back layup as the buzzer sounded to pull the Panthers within two at the end of the first.
In the second quarter, the Panthers switched defenses to a box and chaser, with Wise defending Cummins.
Boles tied the game at 17-17, but Anderson’s Austin Linzy answered with a three-point-play, hitting a basket and drawing Corbin’s second foul.
Following a timeout, the Panthers started to fall apart, turning the ball over five straight possessions, while the Bearcats built a 28-17 lead. Damron ended the three-minute drought with a short jumper. Carroll rebounded, scoring the last four points of the quarter, and took a 30-23 deficit into the locker room.
Anderson opened the half on a 7-2 run, before Corbin and Damron slowed them down with two straight baskets, forcing an Anderson timeout. Damron scored on a drive to the rim later in the quarter to cut the lead to four, 39-35. The Panthers had an opportunity to cut the lead to two, but missed two free throws, keeping the score the same heading into the fourth.
The Bearcats began spreading the floor in the fourth and ran precious seconds of the clock with each possession. Cummins and Christian Estes each scored seven points in the quarter, while Jay Smith hit 4-6 free throws to help their team keep the win just out of reach for the Panthers.
“I’m really proud of our guys, and even though we lost, I feel very good, very good,” Yager said. “I think they represented our community really well. I think anybody that saw us play tonight would say they’re really proud of them, and I think they showed a lot of character … We’re a team, and they came out here tonight to battle them and to come out here and win a game. From a coaching standpoint, you can’t ask guys to give it any more than that.”
Yager said Anderson County took good shots all night, regardless of what Carroll County was doing on defense. “That’s why they are a good team,” he said. “They take good shots, they play good defense, they play every possession.”
Despite the loss, Yager said he thinks the Panthers grew as a team. “We’re still wanting to be a good team, and we haven’t lost sight of our goals. I’m just really proud of the way the guys have been responding to adversity. I try to teach them life lessons, and a lot of times life doesn’t deal you a good hand and whatever hand you’ve got, the people that are successful learn how to take that hand and do something with it. I think, tonight, our guys showed that, and they have every game, really.”