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Life is good for Anderson County basketball.
In the final minute of a 59-43 whipping of long-time rival Franklin County Saturday night, Bearcat coach Glen Drury cracked a bit of a smile as he patrolled the area in front of his bench.
Senior Austin Corn had just missed an open layup and was taking some ribbing from his teammates and classmates in the Anderson student section. "They were riding him pretty hard and Austin said he was going to dunk it," Drury said.
Such is life when a team finishes the regular season 19-4 and ranked atop the Eighth Region in at least one computer poll. Anderson was supposed to be good, but prior to the campaign Drury openly wondered if his team could duplicate the 21-7 record of 2006-07 against a beefed up schedule.
"I am so proud of these kids," Drury said. "But they are not satisfied and I am not satisfied."
Undoubtedly, much of Anderson's success has come from players like Corn, a football all-state second teamer who joined the basketball team for his senior season after a year's absence. "He's been a major asset to us," Drury said.
Drury refers to it as "knowing their roles." Not only do they Bearcats know them, they have accepted and executed them superbly. Never was it more apparent than against Franklin, a team that was a slight favorite to beat Anderson for the fourth straight year.
Of Anderson's 19 field goals, 15 came as the result of an assist. None demonstrated Anderson's unselfishness more than Nathan Grooms declining to pull the trigger on a brief look for an open 3-pointer late in the first half. Instead, Grooms whipped a pass to Jacob Russell for a layup that put Anderson up 32-24.
"My job is to do whatever I can to help the team win," said Grooms, a senior who scored just 3 points but had 4 assists in his final home game.
"We are unselfish," added point guard Ryan Wells. "We don't care who does what. Winning the game is the important thing."
Saturday, the Bearcats turned what was supposed to be a close one into a romp with a fourth-quarter outburst.
It actually started in the final 90 seconds of the third frame when Wells lobbed to C.J. Penny for a layup, then just before the third quarter horn, Will Ruggles made a great fake with an inbounds pass, then connected with Wells for an open 3-pointer.
Anderson, which never trailed, extended a 2-point lead to 44-37. Franklin was never closer.
Penny led Anderson with 26 points and also came up with 6 steals, one of which ended with a thunderous dunk that energized what was an excellent crowd, despite the fact that the game had been postponed from the night before.
Russell added 18 points and a team-high 9 rebounds. Penny, Wells and Russell all handed out 3 assists.
DeRon Hicks paced Franklin County with 18 points.
A team that had been careless in recent games, Anderson committed just 9 turnovers to Franklin's 11.
But the key to the victory most likely came from Anderson's defense that limited Franklin to below 36 percent shooting. The Flyers burned Anderson with deadly bombing a year ago, but Friday, Franklin managed just two 3-pointers and hit just 18 of 51 shots.
"We didn't shoot the ball well," said Franklin coach Scott Chalk. "I think it was a combination of that and Anderson's defense. Give coach Drury credit for that."
Drury said the credit went to his players, who guarded so well that he stayed with his trademark man-to-man for 32 minutes instead of switching to a 2-3 zone that had been good to Anderson during the season.
"That was the best defense we have played this year," Drury said. "Ryan Wells really shut down (Barrett) Meyer. C.J. did a good job on him when he was guarding him too."
Meyer, who torched Anderson from long range last year, went 0-for-5 behind the arc and finished with 4 points.
Franklin also hit just 5 of 16 free throws while Anderson sank 18 of 24.
Anderson repeatedly limited Franklin's dribble penetration and recovered when the ball went to the 3-point lane. "I think we made them rush their shots some," Drury said.
Which is exactly what Anderson had begun to do when he called for time midway through the third quarter. The Bearcats had owned a 24-12 lead late in the first quarter, but had seen Franklin slowly whittle that to 36-35.
Anderson came out of the break beating Franklin's 2-2-1 zone press, then scored when Russell found Penny for a layup. Franklin scored again on Andy Donovan's rebound but the Bearcats pulled away with Penny and Russell combining for 17 of Anderson's final 23 points.
The fact that Penny, a junior, and Russell, a sophomore, scored more than 75 percent of their teams points on Senior Night was not unusual.
It's all about winning to them.
"I am so proud of these seniors," Drury said. "They have accepted their roles so well and that is huge key to our success. These kids just love playing."