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The Carroll County boys struggled to find their rhythm on offense until the second half against Owen County in the 31st District playoffs Wednesday, Feb. 20. But it was ultimately too little too late, as the Rebels hung on late by hitting 11 straight free throws to win, 42-36.
The Rebels ultimately became 31st District Champions for the second year in a row. They took on Anderson County in the 8th Region Monday, Feb. 25 at Henry County.
“For whatever reason, we didn’t do a good job of running our sets in the first half that we were trying to run,” Panthers head coach Carroll Yager said. “I think we were nervous. (Owen has) had the opportunity to be in some big games. They won the Class A; they played in the Class A state tournament. I thought we played a little bit nervous early, a little bit timid. But I’m really proud of them, really proud of them.”
The Rebels started the game by pounding the ball inside to freshman big man, Carson Williams, who scored their first two baskets. A 3-pointer by Jerrod Ball gave Owen a 7-0 lead midway through the opening quarter.
Trey Boles scored the Panthers’ lone bucket of the quarter on a drive down the lane with 2:40 remaining. After one, Owen led, 9-2.
The Rebels started hot in the second quarter, scoring on their first three possessions, before Brandon Stewart got the Panthers back on the board with a pair of free throws, 15-4.
The pass quickened in the quarter, as both teams started getting a little erratic with the ball. Each squad ended the half with nine turnovers.
Boles cut Owen’s lead from 13 to eight with a trey and another bucket off a drive down the lane. Owen led 17-9 at the half.
“We were a little bit too tentative on offense the whole first half,” Yager said. “We felt we were very fortunate to just be down eight at the half because we hadn’t played very well offensively. Fortunately our defense was real solid and it kept us in the game.”
The Panthers coaching staff recognized how important it was to get their offense off to a good start in the third, which included getting Stewart more involved. Jay Damron took over the point guard spot, and the Panthers ran two straight screen plays for Stewart near the Carroll student section. The senior nailed them both, pumping up the crowd.
On the defensive side, Dakota Corbin drew a charge from Owen’s Ball, but the Panthers could not capitalize.
Rebel Hunter Trenary and Boles traded free throws, 20-16. Following a missed 3-pointer, Boles connected on a jumper to cut the lead to two and force a Rebel timeout with 4:08 to go in the quarter.
Out of the break, Williams connected on an old-fashioned three-point-play. Boles answered with a bucket inside the paint. John Michael Adams pulled the Panthers within one after a huge offensive rebound and put back with 1:40 to go.
Two free throws by Justin Shelton took the Owen lead back to three.
On the last play of the quarter, Stewart shot a contested jumper right as time was winding down and missed. Yager pleaded with the referees for a foul, but to no avail.
Up to about this point, the Panthers had done a good job of keeping the Rebels off the offensive glass. But as time ran down, Williams was able to take advantage of his size and keep the drive alive for his team.
The Rebels got the ball to start the fourth, and Williams connected on another old-fashioned three-point-play after an offensive rebound. Boles answered with another 3-pointer.
After two straight Rebel buckets, Adams connected on his own three-point-play off a pass inside by Jacob Wise and hitting the free throw to cut the lead to four, 32-28.
But excellent free throw shooting from the quiet Zach Ripy and Ball helped fend off a late Panther surge.
“Defensively, we did a lot of things that we wanted to do,” Yager said, including holding Ripy to 1-9 from the field, 0-5 from 3-point land. “Our offense sputtered; we didn’t attack well. Even at the end there, we had a couple shots where if they had gone down, it could have pulled us a little closer … They play really good position defense. They’re very solid. We got beat by a good team.”
The Panther offense hit just 29 percent from two-point range (7-24), but was 6-16 from behind the arc.
Boles led the team with 15 points and eight rebounds, followed by Stewart with 11 points and four assists. Adams scored five points, Damron scored three points and Corbin scored two points.
Carroll County ended the season 16-12, 9-9 in the 8th Region and 3-6 in the 31st District.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Yager said. “I’m really proud of the way they’ve responded all year long with the injuries we’ve had (and) the adversity we’ve had. To continue playing well and keep trying to move forward was just great.
The head coach said he felt fortunate to be a part of his players’ lives, particularly the seniors.
“They’re a special group,” he said. “Hopefully our young guys learned from them what it takes to be great.”