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The door is closed on the 2011-12 basketball regular season. Now, it’s tournament time, and the pressure is on for teams to perform and players to step up and make big plays.
Despite winning their previous two meetings, the slate was wiped clean when the Carroll County Panthers took the court against the Eminence Warriors Monday, Feb. 20 at Owen County High School.
Eminence (8-22) kept the game close through three quarters, but were unable to stage a comeback in the fourth. The Panthers (14-13) outscored their competitors 20-9 in the final quarter, including 7-10 from the charity stripe.
“It was a great win,” head coach Carroll Yager said. “I told the guys coming in to this it would be a whole new game. Even though we played twice, you can forget that other one. This is a new season and we had to be ready to play.”
Junior Dallas Gibson led the way for the Panthers with “a monster game,” 22 points and 24 rebounds. “That’s tremendous, tremendous effort,” Yager said. “That’s the best effort of probably (anyone) that I’ve coached.”
For the seniors — Evan Mefford, Travis Ellis, John Walls and John Perry, who was sick and did not make the trip — the playoffs mean more than just win or go home. They are about keeping their high school basketball careers alive.
Mefford, in particular, played Monday night like a senior not ready to hang up his jersey for the final time. He drove to the basket with conviction in the first quarter, scoring eight of his 12 points in the opening minutes. He also played lockdown defense on Eminence sophomore point guard Jalen Dixie, helping to hold him to 10 points on the night.
“Evan came out like a senior comes out, (saying) ‘I don’t want to lose. I’m not going to lose,’” Yager said. “(Evan) said, ‘I don’t know when my last game’s going to be, but I’m going to get after it tonight,’ and he picked it up there. We needed someone to pick us up there a little bit, and I think he kind of did that in the first half.”
Gibson dominated in the second and third quarters, scoring 17 of his 22 points.
However, the game remained close until the final eight minutes of the game. Carroll held a slight advantage at halftime, 22-21, and were only able to extend their lead by a point in the third, up 35-33.
With about two minutes gone in the fourth quarter, junior Trey Boles jumpstarted a scoring spurt with a 3-pointer for the Panthers. Sophomore Dakota Corbin blocked a shot on their next defensive possession, which led to a basket by Mefford that he muscled in from the block. The Warriors’ Brandon Mitchell answered with a bucket of his own, but Boles came right back and nailed a second 3-pointer, giving Carroll a 43-36 lead.
The two teams traded possessions until the 3:13mark when Gibson found Boles from the top of the key for a bucket on the block, forcing an Eminence timeout, 45-36.
The Warriors were soon forced to resort to fouling, and the Panthers stepped up to the foul line and hit 7-10 in the fourth quarter, 15-22 overall.
After the game, Yager noted the unselfishness of his players and how they are willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win. “That’s been the fun thing about coaching this group is they like each other, they get along, they pull for each other and sometimes it’s not that way.”
Unlike in their senior night loss to South Oldham, the Panthers did not shy away from the ball, even in pressure situations. “They wanted the ball. There wasn’t anybody out there that (wanted) to hide,” Yager said. “They played with courage. … If the first pass wasn’t open, they did not panic.”
Carroll County will take on top-seeded Owen County (20-10) Thursday at 6 p.m. The Panthers have come up short three times this season to the Rebels by an average of 20 points.
“We’re just going to go back and probably play them a little bit different than we played them the first three times we played them,” Yager said. “We really haven’t gotten off to a good start in any of those three games. They’re a good team, and it’s really tough playing from behind against a good team.”
B. Mitchell 13, Dixon 10, Lane 8, J. Mitchell 6, Sims, 3, Moore 2.
Gibson 22, Mefford 12, Stewart 9, Boles 8, Crowell 4.
Eminence 11 10 12 9_42
Carroll 13 19 13 20_55