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There was nothing un-Christian about Anderson County's performance on the basketball court Friday night.
Just like there was nothing un-Jay-like. Or un-Austin. Or un-Luke. Or, oh, you get the idea.
Junior guard Christian Estes led the Bearcats with 23 points and seven rebounds in a 94-59 romp past visiting Western Hills, but he was far from alone.
Three other Bearcats – Jay Smith, Austin Cummins and Luke Mann – scored in double figures while the Bearcat defense clamped down on the Wolverines, turning a competitive game into a rout.
Estes carried the Bearcats early, scoring 16 points in the first half as Anderson built a 46-33 advantage at intermission.
Anderson improved to 13-2 on the year while Western Hills fell to 4-15.
“That shows how good he is,” said Anderson senior Jay Smith, who finished with 18 points. “He is good and he is going to help us.”
“I think he is capable of that,” Anderson coach Glen Drury said of Estes' performance. “He has been doing that in practice and he has been doing some good things. He is building up his confidence and we have got to have Christian playing like that.”
Smith, who has been putting up stat lines that should put him in the conversation for the Eighth Region Player of the Year, scored 12 in the first half as the Bearcats needed 10 minutes to get started.
Trailing 26-24 after leading 20-11 at the end of the first quarter, Anderson finally heeded the advice Drury had given in a time out a minute before.
“He said we were going to have to guard because they are a good offensive team and we would have to guard them,” Smith said.
“I don't think we took them serious early,” Drury said. “I warned the guys that this club coule score. They have been averaging 65 points a game over the last five games.
“Give Western Hills a lot of credit. They came in here to beat us. They came out real fiery and ready to go.
The Wolverines took their only lead at 26-24, but Estes came up with a steal, that he converted to a layup 25 seconds later. On Western Hills' next possession, Cummins came up with the theft, then found Estes for another layup.
The Bearcats were on their way, outpointing Western Hills 22-7 the rest of the half. Ten of Anderson's points in the spree came as the result of turnovers.
“Once we got going defensively, we were in pretty good shape,” Drury said.
Inside the final minute of the first half, Smith, Ross Cox and Estes combined on a spectacular save-save-layup that was SportsCenter worthy. Cox saved a loose ball while flying out of bounds along the right sideline. By the time Smith caught up with the ball, he was under the Anderson basket but almost out of bounds as well. Smith simply made another blind save directly to Estes for an open layup.
“That was absolutely what you call a hustle play at its best,” Drury said. “When you are playing up-and-down like we are, you are going to have more of those kind of plays. Can you get to those 50-50 balls? You have got to have them.”
“I just threw it in,” Smith said. “I didn't see where it was going. I just threw it in and he caught it and laid it in.”
That gave Anderson a 44-31 lead, the longest of the night to that point, but Western Hills came out swinging in the second half.
The Wolverines drew within 50-42 at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter when leading scorer ZhaVaughn Reed hit two free throws, but six seconds later, Cox connected along the baseline.
After Cox was whistled for a technical foul, Reed hit a free throw to make it 52-43. Western Hills was never closer.
Smith hit two free throws, then Estes converted a three-point play to start a 15-4 scoring blitz that put the Bearcats firmly in control.
“We started the second half giving up some easy stuff,” Drury said. “You can't win at this game giving up easy stuff. You will get beat by a quality club if you give them anything easy. The key point was when they had cut the lead, we were able to come up with four consecutive stops.
The final score was equaled Anderson's longest margin of the game.
Cummins, making his first start, gave Anderson a lift, hitting a trio of 3-pointers and coming up with several steals. “In Saturday night's game (a double-overtime loss to Mercer County), Cummins is the one that brought us back,” Drury said.
The under-sized Bearcats also dominated the backboards, claiming a 37-23 advantage. Smith joined Estes for the team-best with seven. “I thought we were really good on the boards and that was a big factor,” Drury said.
Mann riddled Western Hills with drives through the lane while Drury also noted that Kyle Sutherland was strong defensively. The Bearcats also got a big lift from Zach Freeman, who scored seven points in reserve. “We got a lot of help from our bench tonight,” Drury said. “Our depth is a strength and it showed up tonight.
“For us to be a contender we need games like that from a lot of people.”
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