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Even though it took Simon Kenton all of 56 seconds to slice Anderson County's 11-point lead to just 37-34, the Bearcats said they weren't worried Friday night.
"No, not worried," said Anderson guard Ryan Wells. "When Coach (Glen) Drury called the timeout, it seemed to calm us."
The Bearcats captured the early-season showdown of Eighth Region powers, 61-54, as C.J. Penny, the region's best player, scored 26 points and pulled down 19 rebounds.
Anderson, which never trailed, was up 24-8 early in the second quarter and was still in firm control at 37-26 when Wells bottomed a 3-pointer from the right corner less than two minutes into the second half.
But Simon Kenton's Langdon Barnes hit his own trey at the 5:45 mark, drove for another basket then saw teammate Nate Ponzer swish a long ball from the right corner with 4:50 to go in the third frame.
What seemed to be a serious statement about regional supremacy appeared to be crumbling on Anderson's home court.
"I thought mental fatigue had started to set in," Drury said. "When you get a big lead like we did, you tend to lose focus. Simon Kenton is a big physical team and I thought they had a great game."
It took another timeout and a second 3-pointer from Wells to get the Bearcats out of imminent danger, but the Bearcats could not breathe easy until Penny completed an old-fashioned 3-point play with 46 seconds to play to set the final margin.
Anderson hit on 46.3 percent of its shots but was only 2-for-8 behind the 3-point line and only five baskets were not layups or rebounds as Anderson was cold from the outside.
"Some of that was good defense on their part. Simon Kenton does a very good job defensively," Drury said.
Anderson also nearly doubled Simon Kenton's rebounding total.
The Bearcats limited Simon Kenton to 40 percent shooting from the field, but Wells said the Bearcats might have aided Simon Kenton's comeback.
"We slacked off on defense," he said. "We were so focused on their big guys inside that we didn't pay attention to their guards.
Anderson went on a 12-2 scoring blitz over the final five minutes of the first quarter then padded its cushion to 24-8, the largest lead of the night.
"We played like we were in quicksand in the first half," said Simon Kenton coach Trent Steiner, whose team was taking the court for the first time.
Simon Kenton was without senior Zach Layne, the only returning starter from last season's 24-9 team. Layne should be able to return to the Pioneers soon. "That's not any excuse," Steiner said, "but he has had 30 varsity starts. You can't replace that."
Simon Kenton drew within 48-46 when Jeff Slavey sank a three with 6:27 to go, but the Pioneers got no closer. Slavey, making his first varsity start, led Simon Kenton with 17 points.
The Bearcats responded to Simon Kenton's final threat with an 8-0 run of their own. Humphries got things started muscling a rebound home, then Penny put back another. The Bearcats dominated the boards, 41-21, and pulled down 17 offensive rebounds.
While Penny got the big stat line, the rest of the Bearcats made significant contributions.
"Wells had a tremendous game," Drury said. "After those time outs, he was very poised out there."
Wells scored 11 points and handed out 5 assists. Despite being listed at 5-foot-7, he also grabbed 5 rebounds.
"We know it is a team game," Wells said.
"We do whatever it takes to win," Penny added.
Penny was spectacular at times, hitting 10 of 17 shots and coming up with a pair of key steals. He also counted 7 offensive boards.
"C.J. made the plays he has to make for us to be very good," Drury said.
But what about the ultimate goal of making it to Rupp Arena?
"We have to have a lot of improvement," Drury said. "We are going to have to improve a lot if we are to be great."
Drury said believes that his team will get better and could see Simon Kenton again in March.
"They will get better, too," he said. "If we play in March, it could be two totally different teams."
The Anderson junior varsity burst out to a quick 12-4 lead and was never threatened en route to a 47-36 win in the preliminary game. Humphries led the young Bearcats with 25 points as they improved to 2-0.