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NEW CASTLE – Some losses are hard to swallow.
Then there was the setback the Shelby County boys’ basketball team endured Tuesday night at Henry County. That one went down like a lump of coal for the Rockets.
Wildcats senior forward Derek Jeffries hit an 8-foot baseline jumper at the buzzer to beat Shelby County, 52-51, but the finish wasn’t quite that simple.
The Rockets, who led by four points with 1:30 to play, were 1 second away from eclipsing last season’s victory total. But that’s when Henry County’s Chase Howard lobbed an in-bounds pass from midcourt to Jeffries, who bobbled the ball, grabbed it off the bounce, turned and made the game-winning shot as the buzzer sounded.
“You’ve got to give credit to the kid,” Shelby County Coach Jason Couch said after taking a couple of moments to collect his thoughts. “Even after he bobbled it, he stayed with it, had a tough shot and stuck it in.
“[But] I thought the clock was going to run out.
Playing for the second time in two nights and the third time in four days, the Rockets (6-12) led, 16-14, at the end of the first quarter before the Wildcats forged a 25-all tie at halftime.
“I just thought we looked sluggish, and we played poorly all night,” Couch said. “We gutted it out at times, but I just never thought we played well.”
Henry County (9-11) opened up a 4-point lead midway through the third quarter before Shelby scored five in a row – on a drive by Malik Manica and a 3-pointer from Keenan Cochran – to take a 32-31 lead with 3:27 to play in the period.
The Wildcats responded, though, with 10 in a row.
Junior forward Austin Young, who had a game-high 22 points, scored inside, and Chase Howard accounted for eight straight points on a pair of free throws and back-to-back 3-pointers. Henry led, 41-32.
Cochran ended the Wildcats’ spurt with a 3-pointer with 29 seconds left in the quarter to start a 14-3 surge by Shelby.
“We didn't give up, we could have,” Couch said. “But I’m not trying to take anything away from Henry County. They made plays when they needed to.”
Manica's conventional 3-point play tied the score at 44 before Kipp Moore's floater hit the front of the rim and bounced in, giving the Rockets a 46-44 lead, with 3:18 left.
Jeffries tied the sore moments later, but Moore answered with a jumper, and, a minute later Cochran's bank shot put the Rockets on top 50-46 with 1:41 to play. That was the last bright spot for Shelby.
Young’s layup trimmed it to two before Michael Barry hit one of two free throws with 59.2 seconds left for the Rockets.
Young cut the lead to one with a jump shot with 37 seconds to play, and the Rockets turned over the ball with 17 seconds left.
“I didn't think we handled the last couple of minutes very well,” Couch said. “We did the opposite of [Monday] night. [Monday] night [at North Bullitt] we played the last three minutes about as well as you can.”
On Henry County’s ensuing possession Dakota Estes missed a shot, and Manica ended up with the rebound before being fouled with 5.6 seconds to play.
The freshman point guard missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity – the Rockets made only 7 of 17 free shot – and Jeffries rebounded. He turned and dribbled and appeared to go up with a shot from beyond midcourt, but the ball was knocked away. It created a wild scramble that ended with Estes calling a timeout as he was falling out of bounds with 1 second on the clock.
After another timeout, this one by Shelby County after seeing what the Wildcats had set up, Howard lofted his in-bounds pass to Jeffries.
“If we would've taken care of business when we had our lead, then it wouldn't have come down to that last play,” Couch said. “Things like this are going to happen with a young team still learning how to win close games.”
Cochran, a sophomore forward, scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting (including 2-of-3 3-pointers) to lead the Rockets, who shot 39.6 percent (21-for-53) from the field. Moore added 10 points, Barry 9 and Gordon and Manica 8 apiece.
The Rockets host North Oldham at 7:30 tonight.