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TAYLORSVILLE – Experience trumped youth Tuesday night.
A veteran Spencer County boys’ basketball team out-executed Shelby County down the stretch for a 52-51 30th District victory.
“They just made some more plays than we did,” Rockets Coach Jason Couch said. “But they’re a team with seven seniors playing at home and we’re a young team on the road.”
The result solidified the seedings and pairings for the 30th District Tournament, which will be played at Collins later this month.
Shelby County (9-16, 1-2) had a mathematical chance – albeit one with very high odds – to earn the top seeding. It would have had to win and hold the Bears to 14 points in the process. If that had happened, it would’ve created a 3-way tie among Shelby, Anderson County and Collins (the latter two posted 2-1 district records), which in turn, would’ve been broken by fewest points allowed in district games.
But the victory by Spencer County not only gave the Bears (11-12, 1-2) the No. 3 seeding – because they beat Shelby head-to-head – but it also gave Anderson County (17-2) the No. 1 seed and the Titans (15-7) No. 2 spot, because the Bearcats beat Collins 55-43 on Jan. 4.
Spencer County, which had lost six of its previous seven games, jumped out early on the Rockets, leading, 13-7, at the end of the first quarter and 28-19 at halftime.
“In the first half we really struggled getting them to play fast,” Couch said. “But we couldn’t hit any shots, and, like a lot of coaches say, if you can’t score, you can’t set up your press.”
Shelby County was just 4-for-17 (23.5 percent) from the field in the first half. And all of those field goals came from senior forward Michael Barry. The rest of the team was 0-of-11.
Shelby County stayed in the game, though, thanks to its free-throw shooting (the Rockets made 10 of 12 foul shots in the first two periods). In the third period the Rockets started to rally with their pressure defense as they outscored the Bears, 18-9.
Kipp Moore’s 3-pointer from the corner with 3:36 to play in the period gave Shelby County a 36-35 lead before a basket by Spencer County and one free throw from Barry tied the score at the end of the third quarter.
The Rockets regained the lead on freshman forward James Gordon’s basket 1:32 into the fourth quarter, but the Bears responded with an 8-0 run to take control.
Shelby County rallied again, though. Freshman point guard Malik Manica scored on a drive, and Moore hit one of two free throws to trim Spencer’s lead to 45-42 with 2:49 to play. The Rockets had a shot to tie about a minute later, but Moore missed a 3-point attempt from the corner. Spencer County senior guard Alex Dennis grabbed the long rebound and ran downcourt for a layup that put the Bears up five.
“In the last five minutes, there was a premium to get points, and they got two or three really quick baskets like that that hurt,” Couch said.
Barry hit 1 of 2 free throws, but the Bears hit a pair to stretch their lead to 49-43 with 55 seconds left.
Barry’s scoop shot with 24 seconds to play trimmed that deficit to four before Spencer County hit a free throw and Moore netted a 3-pointer with 4 seconds remaining.
However, the Bears hit two more foul shots before Shelby sophomore Zander Weeks hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Spencer County was 9 for 14 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, when the Rockets were only 2-of-8.
“You’ve got to shoot free throws better in the fourth quarter if you’re going to win games like that,” Couch said.
Barry scored a game-high 14 points for Shelby, which shot just 32.3 percent (16-for-49) from the field and finished 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) from the foul line. Gordon added 11 points and Moore 10.
Dennis led Spencer County with 12 points and Bears big man Chris Dunbar had 10, with eight in the first half.
Shelby County, which has seen four of its previous five games decided by three points or less, plays at DeSales at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday before hosting Gallatin County at 7:30 p.m. next Friday – the Rockets’ “Senior Night.”