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OWENTON – Forget the deep freeze outside. Anderson County knew how to heat things up last Thursday.
On a night when the outside temperature was bottoming out near or below zero, the Bearcats turned up the heat to dismantle host Owen County, 67-49. Leading 25-24 at the half, Anderson scored the first nine points of the third quarter, then cruised to a victory over a team considered to be a dark horse contender for the Eighth Region championship.
“I thought we keyed off our defense in the second half,” said Anderson coach Glen Drury. “In the first half, (Owen) had handled our pressure very well, so we turned it up a bit and denied the ball harder.”
A sharp-shooting team, Owen hit just under 35 percent of its shots. Collin Gamble, considered by some to be the best shooting guard in the region, hit just two of seven from 3-point range. “We had zero field goals in the third quarter,” Owen coach Devin Duvall said. “You are not going to beat teams as good as Anderson with that. Coach Drury is a defensive specialist and they did a good job with their defense.”
Anderson out-pointed the Rebels 22-6 in the third frame as C.J. Penny scored 12 of his game high 26 points in that span. “He had five points at halftime, so we felt pretty good about that,” Duvall said.
But Penny did most of his damage with defense, coming up with seven steals, including one that resulted in a powerful dunk that ended the third quarter.
“C.J. did a little bit of everything out there tonight,” Drury said.
Penny and Jacob Russell, who scored 15 points, began to dominate the lane in the second half. “I thought we wore them down,” Drury said. “They are as big as we are and in the first half, they matched us, but as the game wore on, we were able to use our strength inside.”
Duvall added that the Anderson pressure took its toll on Marston and Gamble. “Our backcourt guys started getting tired,” he said.
As Anderson quickly pulled away in the third frame, Penny and Russell often fed each other with crisp passes found one of the scorers alone on the block. “We moved the ball much better in the second half,” Drury said.
“We had warned the kids that they are the two best passing big men in the region,” Duvall added.
The Bearcats shot just 44.4 percent from the field, but was never seriously threatened after its explosion to open the second half. After Russell’s jumper put the Bearcats up 38-27 midway through the third, the lead never dipped into single digits again. It hit its zenith at 54-32 early in the fourth quarter.
Anderson improved to 11-4, while Owen fell to 7-8 and saw a five-game winning streak snapped.
Part of Anderson’s second half success could be traced to guard Allen Warford, who put the clamps on Owen point guard Drew Marston. Marston had riddled the Bearcats with mercurial drives in the first 16 minutes, prompting Drury to switch Warford from Gamble to Marston.
“Allen Warford’s defense was tremendous,” Drury said. “We were able to give him some help too.”
Warford also hit 6-of-8 free throws in the final five minutes. “They were testing Allen, but he can hit foul shots,” Drury said. “He’s a lot better offensive player than people think.”
Gamble led Owen with 21 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter after the issue had been settled.
After breaking out to a 6-0 lead on a pair of Landon Jenkins 3-pointers, Anderson struggled to find rhythm offensively and had trouble stopping Owen’s spread offense. Owen actually had a pair of one-point leads in the second quarter but Jeremy Turpin’s 3-pointer gave the Bearcats the lead for good at 22-20.
“I am happy with the win,” Drury said. “I think Owen County is good. Their record does not indicate just how good they are. They can beat anyone on a given night.”
The Anderson junior varsity rolled to a 58-38 win in the preliminary game. Tyler Hyatt nailed 6-of-10 3-point shots and led the young Bearcats with 22 points. Taylor Trimble added 18 points for Anderson, which improved to 4-2 on the year.