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The post season came to a close much too quickly for the Carroll County Panthers boys basketball team, as they were booted out of the 31st District Tournament Monday night by Eminence. The Warriors knocked down seven 3-pointers in the third quarter and hit their free throws down the stretch to beat the Panthers, 71-65. Eminence (7-20) will take on No. 1 seeded Owen County (16-9) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Carroll County High School. No. 2 seed Gallatin County plays No. 3 seed Henry County at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“I told the guys yesterday, ‘We’re headed down into a new season, and as we go down this season, every team will end with a loss unless we win the state championship,’” head coach Carroll Yager said. “We kind of joked and realized we weren’t going to win the state championship, so we were going to end with a loss. We had hoped it would have been a little further down the road than tonight.”
The two teams battled back and forth in the first quarter, with Carroll down 16-13. Still behind by three with 4:32 to go, the Panthers went on an 11-4 run to lead, 30-26, at halftime.
But Eminence had the hot hand in the third quarter, as Trevor Payton hit a trey to open the quarter and point guard Jalen Dixie knocked down four straight 3-pointers – at least two stepping backwards. Carroll County hung in there as back-to-back buckets by Dakota Corbin and Blake Kruzan tied the game at 41 apiece. But Warriors’ forward Cornelius Sanford also got in on the action and scored two 3-pointers and a bucket inside to end the quarter with Eminence up, 53-47.
With about three minutes to go, Carroll County cut the lead to two as Jacob Wise scored off an assist by John Michael Adams. But Sanford answered with a basket inside to push the lead back out to four. Isaiah Hogan drove hard down the lane on Carroll’s next possession, but no foul was called. Eminence took a timeout with 2:15 to go, up 66-62.
With just four team fouls, Yager yelled at his team from the sideline to foul, but they did not respond, forcing him to take a timeout with 52.2 seconds left. They did not hit their seventh team foul to send Eminence to the line until there was just 49.9 seconds left.
“I guess they couldn’t hear me with the crowd noise, but, yeah, we were trying to start fouling,” he said. “First of all, we weren’t in the bonus yet so I didn’t want the clock to get any further down and us still needing to start fouling then. We used a timeout to try to get them to understand what we were trying to do, and we started fouling and then they made their free throws.”
Eminence hit 5-7 free throws down the stretch, and Carroll was unable to cut into the lead. The Warriors hit 7-10 on the night, while Carroll left 12 points behind at the stripe, 12-24.
Sanford had a big night for the Warriors, posting a double-double of 27 points and 15 rebounds, and Dixie scored 22 points.
“Dixie had a streak there where he really got going and then we got the ball out of his hands and a couple other players knocked some shots down,” Yager said. “… We wanted somebody else to make some plays and they did.”
In addition to the free throws, Yager said his team missed a lot of easy shots early on. “But you’ve got to give Emiennce all the credit. They made plays when they needed to make plays, and we wish them the best as they move on.”
Corbin, Hogan and Austin Crowell each scored 11 points to lead the Panthers. Crowell sat out the past two games after hitting his knee on the floor against Collegiate, but was back in the starting lineup Monday night and played the entire game.
Kruzan and Wise each scored 10 points, while Adams scored nine points and Jackson “Boo” Donahue scored three points.
Carroll County ends its season with a 14-14 record.
“I think we had a very successful season,” Yager said. “I told the guys one of the things they will always take with them is winning the Class ‘A’ and that’s a huge accomplishment. That meant a lot to them when they did it, but tonight, they’re all very disappointed with where we are.
“I’m really proud of the guys, proud of the seniors we had. I thought they worked hard. I thought all the guys represented the school and community well. It just came to a close sooner than we wanted it to.”