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By David Sharp
Third seeded Scotland County (12-13) shot the basketball exceptionally well during their 56-49 win over second seed Knox County in their February 24, 2021 Class 2, District 6 boys championship semifinal game at Knox County.
The contest marked the first time a district basketball game had been played at Knox County since the early 1970’s. The 1963 vintage Eagle Gym was used for several district tournaments from 1964 on due to it’s central location.
MSHSAA district basketball tournament seating capacity standards changed through time. Newer and larger venues such as Canton, Schuyler County, Scotland County and South Shelby regularly host the district tournaments of today.
The 2020-21 season district basketball tournaments were modified to limit interaction between fans of competing schools due to Covid-19 restrictions. The highest surviving seeded team hosted all but the boys championship game of District 6 this season.
“I thought our defense was really key in this ball game,” Scotland County coach Jeremy Austin said. “We did a lot better job executing down the stretch in pressure situations.”
“For the most part, they settled down and took good shots,” Jeremy Austin said. “We have had trouble closing out teams down the stretch that were not nearly as good as what we saw here. This was a good team. The ability for us to execute offensively. If we would have hit some free throws, it would have been a lot better situation for us.”
Scotland County answered a 7-0 Knox County run at the beginning of the contest. The Eagles (15-6) responded to an 8-3 deficit with a Rylan Roberts three ball, a steal and a Conner Hayes field goal for a 10-8 edge with 2:24 to play in the first quarter.
Scotland County made shots the entire night. Kabe Hamlin tied the score at ten. Hamlin finished with a game high 20 points. Owen Triplett completed a three point play for a 16-12 Tiger lead with 1:07 in the period. The converted and one was part of a 7-0 Tiger run.
Scotland County answered Coltin Morrow’s field goal with a Corbyn Spurgeon three pointer and a 13- 12 Scotland County lead. Scotland County led 18-14 after the first period. Colt Morrow tossed in a Knox County three ball for an 18-17 deficit 30 seconds into the second quarter.
Scotland County executed well on the defensive end, especially during the second and third periods. The Tigers were physical in their 2-3 defense as they battled the taller Knox County front line.
Hot Tiger shooting helped build a 26-19 lead with 4:11 remaining in the first half. Knox County turned the ball over at least three times near the close of the first half. Xavier Lucas tossed in a three quarter court three ball at the second quarter buzzer.
The Scotland County crowd roared as the Tigers ran off the court with all the momentum in the world and a 35-24 halftime lead.
Knox County ran the court early in the third quarter, pulling within a 39-30 deficit when Conner Hayes drove the lane and finished with 5:47 to play in the third period. Corbyn Spurgeon hit another Scotland County three, capping a 7-0 run to a 46-30 lead with four minutes to play in the quarter.
Knox County got up off the canvas, responding to the 16 point Tiger lead with a 12-0 run. The Eagles pressured Scotland County on the full court. The Eagles did a better job of rebounding and running the floor.
Conner Hayes hit a three pointer with 1:45 to play in the game for a 52-47 Tiger lead. The home run ball capped Hayes basketball scoring run with 17 points in his final game for the Eagles.
Scotland County got big rebounds down the stretch. Carson Harrison hit two free throws with 90 seconds to play for a 54-47 Tiger lead. Coltin Morrow and Kabe Hamlin traded field goals near the end of the contest.
Scotland County advanced to play top seeded Cairo in the district championship game. The Bearcats improved to 24-1 on the season with a fairly lopsided victory.
Neither team shot free throws well. The competitors turned in a 4-10 free throw shooting performance each. Scotland County held a 20-12 advantage in made field goals. Knox County was on the good end of a 7-4 three point field goal advantage.
Knox County outscored Scotland County 25-21 in the second half. The 16 point deficit in the third quarter proved too much to overcome.
Conner Hayes led Knox County with 17 points. Rylan Roberts was next in line with nine points. Coltin Morrow scored seven points. Nelson Shinkle put in six points. Jacob Becker and Branson Miller scored three points each. Blake Parrish and Braydon Miller added two KCHS points each.
Seniors Conner Hayes, Elliott Ogden, Coltin Morrow and Matthew Carlson played their final basketball games for Knox County.
Kabe Hamlin scored a game high 20 Scotland County points. Zavier Lucas scored 13 points. Carson Harrison was the third Tiger in double figures with ten points. Owen Triplett added seven Scotland County points.
“We struggled to hit shots early on,” Knox County coach Keith Gudehus said. “Obviously our defensive effort was lacking. I don’t know if we were trying to do too much defensively early on.”
“We gave up way more points that we typically do in a game,” Keith Gudehus said. “We didn’t finish shots. We had way too many shots that we just didn’t get into the basket. We couldn’t find a way to get it there. That’s what happens.”
“When you are playing a team for the third time this year. They spot an opening and get a little confidence, it’s hard to undo that,” Keith Gudehus said. “I think the difference was the first 22 minutes of the game.”
“They worked harder. Played faster than we did,” Coach Gudehus said. “When we finally got our feet under us and started coming after them, we just didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish the job.”
“I told the boys that’s the way it works. When you are playing a good team, it’s hard to come back from a double digit deficit,” Coach Gudehus said. “By the time you dig yourself out of that hole, you have sapped a lot of energy at that point. It’s hard to keep things going.”
“We knew we had a lot of talent coming into this season,” Keith Gudehus said when asked to reflect on a 15-6 season. Knox County won the Tri-Rivers Classic boys tournament. The Eagles took third place after losing to eventual champion North Shelby in the North Shelby Tournament semifinals.
Knox County also won third place in the Highland Tournament after a 53-48 loss to the host Cougars in the first round. The Eagles held a quality win at eventual Class 3 district champion Palmyra by a 44- 37 final score.
“They came to practice every day and made it enjoyable for me,” Coach Gudehus said. “They gave me energy. They have a lot of intangibles that tend to make really good teams.”
“We might have won a couple of games I didn’t expect us to win,” Keith Gudehus said. “There weren’t many games I didn’t think we had a chance to win. It’s frustrating that it has to end this way. I give a lot of credit to Scotland County.”
“It was the third time we played. You find out a lot about a team’s resilience when that happens. They came out with a lot of effort and a lot of hustle tonight,” Gudehus said. “Unfortunately we were on the short end of that.”
“Elliott Ogden, Coltin Morrow, Conner Hayes and Matthew Carlson. Most of those kids have been around the basketball court most of their lives,” Keith Gudehus said talking about his seniors.
“They have been playing on this floor since they were six years old. I’m sorry that it has to end this way for them,” Keith Gudehus said. “I wanted them to leave this floor with a win under them. I wanted to go up Saturday and see what happens.”
“I’m disappointed for them. Great kids. Great attitudes. The sort of young men that you want around. I’m proud of them. Proud of the things they do in school,” Keith Gudehus said.
“Proud of the things they do on the basketball floor. The guys behind them have got some big shoes to fill.”