CORBIN — You wouldn’t know it was a rematch by looking at the final score.
Knox Central advanced to the semifinals of the 13th Region Tournament with a 53-45 win over North Laurel on Wednesday. Less than a week ago, Knox Central ran away with a 105-84 win.
“That’s probably the ugliest type basketball game anyone wants to watch. You’ve got to learn to play that way,” Knox Central coach Tony Patterson said. “They jerk so much stuff out at tournament time. You’ve got to be prepared.”
In the previous meeting, the Panthers scored at least 23 points in each quarter and 34 in the fourth. The two teams combined for 80 points in the first half of that game. In Wednesday’s rematch, there were just 30 points combined in the first half.
“We didn’t know how good they were the first time we played them. It was the last game of the regular season and we really hadn’t watched them all that much. We tried to run up and down with them,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said.
There would be no running with Knox Central in The Arena. The Jaguars made it a halfcourt game. Both teams found uncontested shots a rare thing.
“We didn’t execute early. We ran our sets and were getting great looks. I think we shot 22 percent from the field,” Patterson said.
Add to that 1-of-8 shooting from the 3-point line and 25 percent from the foul line.
North Laurel shot just 35 percent from the field in the half.
“We missed some opportunities that probably could have given us a pretty decent lead,” Sizemore said. “They’ve got a really good team. That’s part of it.”
There would be seven lead changes in the first half and a pair of ties. North Laurel’s largest lead was four points. Knox Central led by as much as three. Five of the lead changes came in a first quarter marked by contested shots and point-blank misses.
“We preach all the time that defense makes offense and it sure does for us. Defense is where we hang our hat,” Patterson said.
The lead changed the first five times a team scored. The largest lead, 9-5, came on the final points of the first quarter when Brian Gray made room with a head fake and drove for a reverse.
The Panthers tied the score for the first time with baskets by Wade Liford and Tanner Wells to open the second quarter. North Laurel continued to miss at the rim as Knox Central pulled ahead 12-11 on a 3-pointer by Dane Imel. The Panthers reached their largest lead of the half when a North Laurel turnover set up a layup by Jaylen Adams. A drive and free throw by Peyton Broughton tied the game again at 14-14. Aaron Rader gave North Laurel a 16-14 halftime lead on an assist from Gray.
North Laurel still couldn’t find its shooting touch in the third quarter. The Panthers missed their first five shots of the second half and made just 2-of-9 in the quarter.
“If we don’t take care of things on the offensive end, they are going to take advantage,” Sizemore said.
Meanwhile, Nick Martin rallied his team and the crowd by scoring 10 points in the third as the Panthers opened a seven-point lead. Martin scored on a putback with 1:57 to play for a 27-20 advantage.
“(Martin) did the same thing here last year. He’s really good on the inside. He’s really explosive,” Sizemore said.
The Jaguars weren’t shooting well, but they were still playing defense. Knox Central’s last four possessions of the third quarter ended with turnovers as North Laurel pulled with 27-25 when Rader scored to close out the third.
The pace had favored North Laurel until the fourth quarter. The Panthers would almost double their score with a 26-point fourth quarter.
“We got the game in the pace we wanted. They came out and tried to speed us up in the third and fourth quarter, which they did. We made a couple of silly plays and they were able to capitalize in transition,” Sizemore said.
Two big fourth quarter shots came from the Knox Central bench. Imel and Jaylen Adams hit 3-pointers to help stymie thoughts of a North Laurel rally.
“Imel and Adams hit some 3s that kind of broke our back,” Sizemore said.
Imel’s three made it a 39-31 game with 4:31 to play. With time winding down, the Jaguars had to scrap the slow pace.
“We had to start pressing and open the game up. They are really good that way,” Sizemore said.
Patterson thought it was also the contagious nature of shooting. Nerves loosen when the shots start falling.
“What gets me about this group is they are winners and they keep wanting to prove themselves,” Patterson said.
It marked the final game for seven North Laurel seniors, including Broughton, who leaves as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“I’m really proud of them. Our goal was to win the district and the region. Obviously, that didn’t happen,” Sizemore said. “These kids have done everything we asked them to do. They came in with a great attitude and played tremendously hard. We won a lot of games the last two years. We just came up short in the postseason.”
The Panthers advance to the semifinals to face Corbin. At the end of the game, the Knox Central fans began to chant. “We want Corbin.” The Panther split with Corbin during the regular season. Corbin won 76-71 on itshome court, with the Panthers winning 93-80 in Barbourville.
“Corbin is always solid in every film I’ve watched on them. Every time we’ve played them they are always solid,” Patterson said.
Turner has been the big scorer for the Panthers in both meetings. He scored 26 points in Corbin and 32 in Barbourville. The Redhounds were led by Andrew Taylor’s 38-points in their win in the finals of the Cumberland Falls Invitational. He scored 22 in the rematch.”
“I think Andrew is averaging 40 in his last three games, or probably a little over,” Patterson said. “You’ve got to slow him down. He’s like Peyton (Broughton).
Patterson also pointed out that there are other threats if you focus too much on Taylor.
“Sanders can shoot it. Maguet can shoot it on a given night,” Patterson said. “They are going to spread the floor. They are going to play small ball with us. We’ll just have to be prepared.”