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A halftime speech after a subpar first half against Rushville inspired the Jennings County boys basketball team to reach a new level last month.
The Rushville game was the first game after Christmas break, and the team struggled in the first half.
“In the first half against Rushville, we didn’t play with the intensity that we needed,” head coach Joe Hartwell said. “At halftime, (assistant coach) Mike Broughton and I talked about toughness. We told them that if we want to compete with the teams in our conference and in our sectional, then we have to bring toughness every night. The team came out with a lot more toughness and purpose in the second half.”
The Panthers came back to win the Rushville game. They lost to Columbus North the next night but won their final three games in January. The team’s tenacity especially helped it prevail at Bedford North Lawrence.
“Bedford was very physical, both inside and on the perimeter,” Hartwell said. “We only had four turnovers for the game, which shows how well we handled their physicality.”
The Panthers stayed with Bedford North Lawrence throughout the game because of their discipline, and they had the ball with a chance to win the game in the closing seconds. The Panthers wanted to utilize the size of Brad Hunt or Tommy Taylor in the post to get a game-winning shot.
“We had to draw up two plays in the huddle,” Hartwell said. “We didn’t know if Bedford was going to play zone or man defense. They went to a zone, and our initial play got busted.”
Point guard Bailey Sanders took a jumper instead and sank it, giving the Panthers a dramatic 53-51 road win and a euphoric celebration.
The team rushed the court and tackled Sanders.
Hartwell was proud that the victory was also a team effort.
“Bailey’s shot was great,” Hartwell said. “But it was most important that the entire team had played well enough to give us a chance to win. It takes toughness to go to Bedford and pull out a win.”
The Panthers also have picked up the pace offensively. Hot shooting helped them defeat both Scottsburg and Floyd Central by double digits.
The Panthers recently tallied a season-high 70 points against the Highlanders.
“Our scores have been higher because we’ve been dictating the tempo,” Hartwell said. “We want to play a fast paced game, and by pressing we have made other teams go faster than they want to go.
“That means more possessions for us. We also have been doing a great job on the offensive boards, which means we have less empty possessions because we are scoring second-chance points.”
Lately, the Panthers haven’t needed many second chances. Dan Leach is leading the team with 46 percent shooting.
Bryson Mills and Adrian Kirchner also have been hot from the field.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Hartwell said. “But February is the hardest part of our schedule. We still have a lot of work to do. We want to be as good as we can possibly be by the end of the season so that we can compete for a sectional title.”
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