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It was simply gut-check time.
Anderson County had seen a monumental rout turn into a competitive game in just over 10 minutes, but when it came time to dig a little deeper, to discover the fiber of one's being, the Bearcats came through just fine, thank you.
Building a 53-26 lead early in the third quarter, Anderson had seen Spencer County whittle that down to 68-60 when Chris Dunbar got free for a layup with 4:35 to play.
It took the Bearcats all of 20 seconds to get Christian Estes free for a layup – thank you, Jay Smith for the assist – then 20 more seconds later, Estes got behind the Spencer defense on a runout to make it 72-20.
Game. Set. Match. Anderson was back on its way to an 88-72 win in a boys' 30th District basketball matchup.
Jay Smith led Anderson with 25 points, while Estes tallied 23 as the Bearcats improved to 14-2 on the year and completed regular season district play at 2-1. Spencer fell to 10-10 and 0-1 in district play.
Spencer dropped another district game at Collins, 69-48, on Wednesday night, meaning that the 30th District Tournament pairings are set. Anderson County will play Shelby County in the first round, while Collins will play Spencer County. The actual seedings will be set by the Shelby at Spencer game on Feb. 5, but the pairings will be the same, regardless of the outcome of that game.
Last Tuesday, the Bearcats turned back Spencer's rally in the most fundamental of ways – locking down defensively and being deadly accurate at the free throw line in the final minutes. After Spencer drew within eight, the Bearcat defense did not allow Spencer to score successive baskets the rest of the way.
Over the last 2:10, the Bearcats hit 13-of-16 charity tosses, including one stretch of hitting 10 straight that extended the lead to 83-65 and put to rest any hope of a Spencer miracle.
The Bearcats never trailed after exploding from the opening tip. Anderson scored the game's first 12 points and never saw the margin dip below eight points. Less than five minutes in, the Bearcats led 18-2 as five different Anderson players contributed offense.
“I was proud of the kids for the way they started the game, with our level of concern and our sense of urgency,” Drury said. “We followed through on the details and I have to give our guys a lot of credit for jumping out with that lead.”
Estes added, “We were working hard in practice and we played as a team. Coach stressed that if we didn’t want to play Collins (in the first round of the district tournament), we had to win this game.”
Estes noted that some tweaking of the Anderson attack has opened things for him.
“You have to score to win this game,” Drury said. “I have been really proud of the way Estes has come on.”
Luke Mann came off the bench to score 14 first-half points and end up with 19 for the game. During one 13-0 scoring run that put Anderson up 42-19, it was Mann converting a three-point play, Smith coming up with a steal and a layup, Mann and Estes burying back-to-back 3-pointers then Mann coming up with a loose ball and turning it into a layup.
The Bearcats had forced 10 first half turnovers and dominated the backboards to go up 47-26 at the break, then extended that margin in the opening minutes of the second half.
“We stayed in position well,” Drury said. “I think we caught them back on their heels a little coming in.”
Still, Spencer County came back.
“I want to give Spencer a lot of credit for never quitting,” Drury said.
Smith, who Drury said “did a little bit of everything,” finished with 11 rebounds as Anderson held a 33-21 advantage on the boards. Sophomore guard Austin Cummins handed out eight assists as well.
Spencer took advantage of some Anderson carelessness with the ball and saw burly center Chris Dunbar go to work around the basket. Anderson had no answer for Dunbar after senior Austin Linzy picked up his third and fourth fouls early in the second half.
“Austin is a big key for us,” Drury said. “We have to do a better job of keeping him out of foul trouble. He’s got to do a better job of not getting the nit-picky fouls. … Without Linzy, we are not as good a club.”
Linzy finished with seven points and six rebounds in just over 20 minutes of action.
Dunbar finished with 27 points, while Brandon Miller, a stellar guard, came off the bench to score 19.
“Miller has been hurt,” Drury noted. “He is one of the best players in the Eighth Region and they are a much better team with him in the game.”
Indeed. The senior guard connected in the lane, then hit two free throws to cut Anderson's lead to 58-42 with 2:09 left in the third frame.
Another Miller bomb – he hit all three he fired – a three-point play from Dunbar, another bomb from Bridger Knotts and another old-fashioned three-point trip by Dunbar pulled the Bears to wthin 68-60.
“We kind of laid down on the defensive end,” Estes admitted. “They were bringing it at us and we weren’t ready.”
That changed quickly, though. Spencer never got closer.
Anderson made sure of that.
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