PRACTICES have been tougher as the Jennings County boys basketball team prepares to battle the top squads in the Hoosier Hills Conference.
“We’ve got Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East and New Albany coming up,” said interim coach Joe Hartwell. “They’re the top three in our conference, and I hope people have started to put us in that top group, also.
“We have to handle defensive pressure better. We also have to stop the dribble-drive offense because a lot of guards use it against us.”
At the start of the season, head coach Mike Broughton stepped back into an assistant’s role because of health concerns, and that’s when Hartwell took over as acting head coach.
“Really what’s happened is (Broughton) has taken a little bit lesser of a role,” Hartwell, a former Jennings County player and South Decatur basketball coach, said at the time. “I’m just doing more yelling at practice. The transition has been pretty smooth, really.”
To ensure they are among the conference contenders, the Panthers are working on overcoming zone defenses and traps by doing four-on-five drills.
“We work on it every day, and we’re getting better,” Hartwell said. “We can score against the defense now, and it’s tough because there’s always an extra person to apply pressure. When we felt started working on this, the offense couldn’t score against the defense, and they couldn’t pass the ball 10 times without losing it.”
The Panthers finished seventh in the recent Bob Wettig Memorial Tournament in Richmond, which was the highest the team has placed in the annual December event.
The Panthers split their four games, beating Rockville Academy and Bishop Chatard.
The team lost to Mount Lebanon and Guerin Catholic, the Class 3A defending state champion.
The Panthers, who were 7-4 heading into the weekend, played sluggishly against Guerin Catholic because the holiday break and the winter weather might have disrupted the team’s routine.
“We played them on Dec. 27, but we hadn’t practiced in two days,” Hartwell said. “Also, we’d been practicing at 10 a.m. over the break instead of 3:30, and that made a difference.”
Hartwell was pleased with his team’s performance and
resilience despite the loss.
“We fought hard, and we didn’t give up (against Guerin Catholic),” Hartwell said. “We’ve rebounded well from the loss.”
The Panthers’ stability is encouraging since the coaching staff likes to tinker with the lineup before each game. Bailey Sanders, the team’s leader in points and assists, has been the only player to start every game this season.
“We like to reward players for working hard in practice,” Hartwell said. “No one expects to be starting, so that’s good. We like to adjust our starting lineups based on match-ups. If we’re playing a team with a lot of quick guards, we might start Caleb Eder because he’s 6-foot-5 and he can guard people on the perimeter. Bryson Mills has been our sixth man and our spark plug off the bench, filling in for our guards.”
Eder has also been a valuable asset because of his hustle and his leaping ability. He is the team’s leading rebounder. Eder is averaging about 10 boards per game, four of them on the offensive glass.
Eder helps launch the Panthers’ improved fast break, which features lots of touch passes and eliminates extra dribbling.
“Now that Tommy Taylor is in shape and he can run, we’re trying to push the tempo more,” Hartwell said. “We’re trying to run as fast as we can without turning the ball over. In some games, we might want to push it early to get a big lead, and then we could play a delay offense and hold the ball for over a minute. It’ll depend on the game situation.”