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Something clicked for Anderson County basketball last week.
It happened over 100 miles from home, in the obscurity of McCreary County, down along the Tennessee border. And it clicked just when the Bearcats looked like they would be kicked and, perhaps, on the way to a disastrous season.
No, Anderson did not win the Arby’s/KFC Classic at McCreary Central High School. Far from it. The Bearcats split four games and still were looking at a 3-4 record heading into last night’s game against Lexington Sayre.
But it was in the midst of a tournament that looked, on paper at least, to be one in which the Bearcats might have been over their heads, they took the get-down, get-dirty suffocating defense that has served Coach Glen Drury with over 400 wins and made it their own. Down 36-20 at the half to a strong Calvary Christian team from Ormond Beach, Fla., Drury said his team “finally decided we wanted to guard people.”
“We are coming along good,” said Anderson’s only experienced player, senior Erik Newton. “We are finding the right pieces.”
Anderson rallied, took the lead in the final minute, then hung on to win 64-63 in the second game of the tournament last Tuesday. “They had one of the better point guards we have seen in all of the years I have been coaching,” Drury said of Calvary sophomore Cameron Hadley. Darrin Laswell did a tremendous job guarding him.”
A guard who is already drawing the interest of some major college recruiters, according to information Drury gleaned from the Calvary coaching staff, Hadley still scored 27 points against the Bearcats, but his ability to distribute and create were hampered as the game went on, Drury said.
“We challenged the kids at halftime and our defense was much better in the second half,” Drury said. “It was the first time this year we really took pride in our defense. Offensively, our ball movement was much better in the second half.
Laswell scored 18 points and sophomore Logan Woodside went to war inside, tallying 19.
The Bearcats had already dropped a 48-37 decision to 12th Region favorite Wayne County in the first round last Monday. “That was a closer game (than the score indicated),” Drury said. “We didn’t hit our shots. They had a lot of size, 6-(foot)-5, 6-5 and 6-4 and they are a very experienced team. We made some runs at them but it didn’t bother them. They just did what they had to do to win.”
Newton led Anderson scoring with nine points against Wayne, while Gavin Dunagan, one of the best-ever to play at Wayne, scored 15 for the Cardinals.
Host McCreary stuck a 41-36 loss on the Bearcats last Wednesday when Anderson only went 3-for-11 from the free throw line and made some crucial turnovers at crunch time. “This was a grind-it-out game. McCreary wanted to slow things down with a sagging man-to-man and zone,” Drury said.
“With a minute and 30 seconds left, we were up 32-30 and we made some turnovers.”
But the Bearcats saved the best for last, going into the Christmas break with a rousing 58-54 upset of traditional Florida power Miami Senior last Thursday. Miami Senior has a long line of greats, including current NBA players Udonis Haslem and Steve Blake along with University of Alabama head coach Anthony Grant.
“They were so athletic,” Drury said, “but I could tell they weren’t ready to play.”
“They were talking a little trash,” Newton said.
“I think nobody thought we had a chance,” Laswell said.
But Laswell, who made the all-tournament team along with Newton, was talking with a deadly jump shot as Anderson delivered a 19-4 punch in the first quarter. “Every shot fell,” Laswell said.
Miami gradually chipped away, pulling within 44-39 after three quarters, then getting within a basket late in the game, but Anderson hit 18-of 24 foul shots for one of the program’s biggest upsets ever.
“We had to hit those foul shots,” Drury said.
How the wins over the Florida teams translate to the rest of the season, especially with the first district game of the year looming against Collins on Jan. 7, remains to be seen. “Right now, we think we are great,” Drury said, “and we needed that kind of confidence from beating a good team. But the McCreary game was a one-possession game but we still made some mistakes that cost us.
“What I like was that the kids came ready to play every night. They are learning and are getting better, but I want to see how we become better each week.”
It is a goal the Bearcats have been looking for ever since the first day of practice. In the off-season, many were predicting disaster for a team that was hit hard by graduation and injuries. And they heard the talk.
“There was some anger to it,” Newton admitted. “I was proud (of the wins at McCreary). I loved it. We are getting better as a team.
“I like my team.”