NEW CASTLE — When Jennings County trailed Brownsburg by six points in the fourth quarter of Saturday morning’s New Castle Semistate semifinal, the Panthers had to be feeling they had at least one more comeback in them.
But this time, Jennings, which pulled out big comebacks to win its first two sectional games, fell a little short in its quest to reach the final four for the first time in school history. The Bulldogs held on for a 51-47 win.
“We didn’t make the easy plays we should have,” senior point guard Keegan Manowitz said. “But we weren’t going to quit, and I’m proud of these guys. We did a lot of things that no one else did. I’m going to miss it for sure.”
Held scoreless in the first half, Manowitz hit three big 3-pointers in the third quarter. He led the Panthers (24-3) with 12 points, four assists and three steals.
“He hit some big shots for us,” Jennings coach Josh Land said. “It’s just so tough. I literally have nightmares about losing him as a basketball player. I’ve never trusted anybody more with the ball in their hands. I thought he stepped up and made some big ones. We just needed one more play.”
After neither team led by more than four points in a back-and-fourth first three quarters, Brownsburg (22-4) stretched the margin to 41-35 with 6:25 left in the game. The Panthers got back to within 46-44 when sophomore Carter Kent banked in a 3-pointer with 1:37 remaining, then after a Bulldogs free throw, had a chance to tie, but Manowitz’ 3-pointer was off the mark.
Brownsburg’s Elhadj Diallo made a free throw with 57 seconds left, then after a missed 3 by senior Owen Law, scored to make it 50-44. Law then hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 50-47 with 13 seconds left, but the Bulldogs’ Grant Porath made the first of two free throws with 9.6 seconds remaining to make it a two-possession game.
Diallo led Brownsburg with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Kanon Catchings added 14 points and seven rebounds. Both are about 6-6 with long arms.
“Defensively for sure, they made it really hard to score in the lane,” Land said. “They made it hard to score off the ball. I thought their length hurt us more definitely on our end of the floor than theirs. I thought we did a good job on Catchings, limiting him. Diallo hurt us driving to the basket. He’s a tough matchup.”
Catchings, the nephew of former Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings and a Purdue recruit, came in averaging 17.9 points a game.
“I thought we did an outstanding job on him,” Land said. “Owen Law deserves a lot of credit. I thought he did a good job keeping the ball out of his hands, and when he did get it, he didn’t foul him but once. I thought part of that, too, was, (Catchings is) really good in transition. We limited our live-ball turnovers and didn’t let him get out running. Our game plan on him was to not let him catch it, and when he does, just contest it and I don’t think he had anything too easy.”
But by containing Catchings, the Panthers had to leave Bulldog guards JD Lynch and Drew Thompson a little more room than they would have liked.
“Their two guards in the first half hit three 3s, and those were the guys that we were not guarding so tight,” Land said. “We were kind of rolling off of them, and they hit three of them in the first half. It puts a little more pressure on you, and you give a little less help when Diallo drives. He was a tough matchup for us. One of our bigs had to guard him to allow Keegan to roll and play the style of defense we wanted to. He wore us down though at the end.”
Kent and senior Justin Ramey each finished with 10 points for Jennings. Freshman Parker Elmore added six points and six rebounds.
“It’s hard to tell a group of guys, especially a group of six seniors in that locker room, that eventually, the positives outweigh the negatives,” Land said. “The sting and the disappointment will go away, and we’ll be able to look back and see how special that was.”
The Panthers won their first sectional title since 2005 and their first regional since 1998. Their 24 wins were the most in a season in school history.
The run to semistate galvanized the North Vernon and Jennings County community, which filled roughly half of the world’s largest high school gym at New Castle.
“That’s what’s made it so special, just the excitement that this season has created, that these players have created,” Land said. “They’re the ones that deserve the credit. That’s what changes the culture of schools and programs and communities. These kids proved that we can win at anything in Jennings County.”
Brownsburg 51, Jennings County 47
Brownsburg (22-4): Spencer Porath 0 1-2 1, Drew Thompson 2 0-0 5, JD Lynch 3 0-1 8, Grant Porath 2 2-4 6, Elhadj Diallo 7 3-4 17, Kanon Catchings 4 4-4 14. Totals: 18 10-15 51.
Jennings County (24-3): Darius Thomas 0 0-0 0, Carter Kent 2 0-0 4, Lane Zohrlaut 2 0-0 4, Parker Elmore 2 0-0 6, Owen Law 2 0-0 5, Keegan Manowitz 4 1-2 12, Justin Ramey 4 0-2 10. Totals: 17 2-6 47.
3-point goals: Brownsburg 5 (Lynch 2, Catchings 2, Thompson); Jennings County 11 (Kent 3, Manowitz 3, Elmore 2, Ramey 2, Law).