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RICHMOND — When Johnny Scruggs missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have iced Thursday’s opening-round Bob Wettig Memorial Tournament game against Connersville, he took matters into his own hands.
With the Spartans trying to work the ball for a potential game-tying 3-pointer, Scruggs came up with possibly the biggest steal of his career. The senior point guard stole the ball with four seconds remaining then made two free throws with 1.1 seconds left to give the Panthers a 54-49 win.
“I was very upset with missing that free throw,” Scruggs said. “I just wanted the ball back, and I got it back.”
Scruggs’ steal and free throws allowed Jennings County (4-2) to escape a near-collapse at the end. The Panthers led 48-34 with 5:15 left in the game before the Spartans (3-3) began causing turnovers.
“We played timid,” Jennings County coach Joe Hartwell said. “We didn’t know how to kill a team. You get up with a lead, you want to bury them, and we didn’t do the things we needed to do to close it out. Luckily, we had enough of a lead that we could survive some bad plays in the end.”
Connersville looked as though it had the momentum at the end of the first quarter after Andrew Stine hit a shot from beyond midcourt to tie the game at 12. But the Panthers scored the first 12 points of the second quarter, making nine consecutive defensive stops, while holding the Spartans scoreless the first 5:26 of the period.
“We locked in defensively,” Hartwell said. “We got after it defensively when they turned the ball over a few times.”
Jennings County led 30-18 at halftime.
“I think we played great the first half,” Scruggs said. “We were very focused. We executed our game plan perfectly. Everything, we did well, but I think we could have stayed a little bit stronger and not made as many turnovers in that second half. I think we may have lost our focus a little bit. That’s what we’ll work on, and we’ll come back even stronger (today).”
Scruggs finished with 14 points and four assists to lead the Panthers, who shot 61.3 percent (19-of-31) from the field. Dan Leach had four assists and four steals, and Tyler Vogel and Brad Hunt each grabbed five rebounds to lead Jennings to a 19-15 advantage on the boards.
With only eight healthy varsity players, Hartwell was pleased with the three who came off the bench.
“Vogel played well, and also (Ethan) Jarvis I thought played well and (Hunter) Euler had some good minutes,” Hartwell said.
Jennings County will play Class 4A No. 9 Fort Wayne North (9-0) in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. today. The Panthers then will play two games on Saturday.
“We wanted to be in the winners’ bracket and play against the best teams in the state,” Hartwell said.
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