OVERTIME ANGUISH AT RUPP!
When John Hardin head coach Jared McCurry looks back at last Wednesday Night’s game against Pikeville, it may not be so much at the final score which was Pikeville 72 John Hardin 69 in three overtimes, but at what might have been instead. There were so many missed opportunities to put the game away and great plays that along with head scratching decisions and missteps by both teams which led to one of the most exciting games in KHSAA state tournament history.
It was a game which started roughly around 8:25 pm at Rupp Arena in Lexington and ended around 11:00 pm making it one of the longest games played at state and if not for a last second three point heave from the right corner with 00:01 remaining in regulation, the game would have ended John Hardin 52 Pikeville 49. Still, playing in their first State Tournament game in their careers and the fourth trip overall for the school in the sport, the Bulldogs started fast behind star forward Mickey Pearson. The St. Louis University signee scored the first six points of the game for John Hardin and eight of the first eleven for the team, but the Bulldogs couldn’t shake the Panthers, who got six of their first eight points from Cade Byers as Pikeville held a slim 18-17 lead after one period.
After the Panthers extended the lead to 21-17 on Evan Rhodes three, John Hardin came right back behind Malik Wright’s three layups to tie it at 23, but the Panthers who were coached by former Mr. Basketball Elijah Justice saw his team go on a 9-2 run to close out the half. After shooting a combined 10-24 in the first half, John Hardin overcame their nerves and stage fright and on a run of their own behind a Pearson jumper, two free throws by Wright and Person, a layup by Jachai Walker, a dunk by Wright and a layup and a three by Aaron Scott to tie it at 38 after three. After that, both teams seesawed back and forth into the lead in the fourth, but after a 49-all tie with 1:52 left in regulation, John Hardin finally moved ahead on three free throws by Pearson. The last came with 00:18 left and after a missed three point shot by Conner Roberts, John Hardin’s Aaron Scott was fouled and went to the line with 00:05 left, but missed the front end of the one and one and Roberts found Wyatt Battaile in the right corner. Battaile, who was the 15th Region POY,and would finish with 30-points fired and hit the three that tied it up at the end of regulation.
The irony was that after hitting 4-of-10 three’s in the first half, the Panthers went 2-of-9 in the second and Battaile, who was 3-4 in the first was ice cold going 1-4 before he took his last shot with time running out. John Hardin had only 4 team fouls after Pikeville took their last time out in regulation and planned to foul to slow down the Panthers momentum, but were unable to before Battaile’s huge three. The Bulldogs had missed a big opportunity, but things still looked up in the first overtime when they hit four free throws sandwiching in a jumper by Wright, who finished with a team high 19-points to lead 58-55 with 00:11 left, but with 00:04 remaining Evan Rhodes was fouled in the act of shooting a three and his three freebees tied it back at 58. The second OT was when things began to change for the 5th Region Champs when Scott put his team up 60-58, but Pearson picked up his fifth fighting for a rebound and was gone with 1:37 left. Still Wright made 1-of 2 free throws to make it 61-58 and that’s when the bizarre happened.
Pikeville attempted three three point shots, missing the first two, but the rebound always found it’s way back to a Panther until finally Christian Billiter hit with 00:16 left to tie it. Wright’s last second shot was off and then two minutes and twelve seconds into the third overtime period he picked up his fifth foul and was gone with his team trailing 68-65. In the last 1:48, the Bulldogs were 1-5 from the floor and 2-4 from the line as they lost 72-69. There’s no doubt that the mistakes, turnovers and missed chances played a huge part in their loss. The Bulldogs NEVER gave up, but simply made too many miscues to win and there will be plenty of “What If’s” to go around afterwards in a game which ended both brilliant high school basketball careers for Mickey Pearson and Malik Wright. Looking back, you could proudly say that the Bulldogs never gave up without a fight and hopefully that’s what they will be remembered for what they did do all season instead of what they couldn’t do last Wednesday Night on a cold evening in Lexington.