By Chris Parsons / Staff Writer
NORTH LAUREL – The Knox Central Panthers took one on the chin Saturday afternoon during the United States Energy Coal Classic, falling to the Johnson Central Golden Eagles, 61-47.
The Panthers, still without starting guard Matthew Barger, fell behind early on in the contest and despite keeping the game relatively close, never could climb out of the early hole.
Dustin Hensley paced the Knox Central scoring charge, tallying 14 points and five assists in the loss, while Jeffrey Adams added 11.
For the Golden Eagles, Braxton Blair put on a show, scoring 23 points on a six-of-eight shooting effort from the field, while going perfect from the free throw line and knocking down all 11 of his attempts.
The loss was the third in a row for Knox Central as they fall to 12-9 on the season.
After the loss, Panthers' head coach Brian Evans said he felt like his team played well, but Johnson Central was able to disrupt his team's game plan in the early going, which put the Panthers behind the eight ball.
“They have a lot of size and we had some trouble handling the basketball,” Evans said. “Their pressure really hurt us early and we got behind, which is never good.
“We played them fairly even after the first quarter, but we just never seemed to get in the groove that we wanted to get into,” he added. “This was a pretty good team and I've said all year that playing good teams is going to make this team better in the long run, whether you win or lose. I think we'll get better because of this game when all is said and done.”
Johnson Central jumped ahead early and held a 14-10 lead at the end of the first quarter of play. The Golden Eagles' defense held Evans squad to single digits in the second period, allowing the lead to grow to 27-19 by the time halftime rolled around.
The Panthers were able to pick up the pace ever-so-slightly in the third quarter, but Johnson Central was able to extend the lead to 12 points (42-30) with eight minutes to play in the contest.
Both teams posted their best offensive outputs of the game in the final period of play as Johnson Central outscored the Panthers 19-17, handing Evans and company the 61-47 loss.
Despite the loss, Evans reiterated that he felt his team was improving and should be better all around once Barger returns to the lineup.
“With Matt (Barger) being out, other players are stepping in and filling the void and stuff like that only helps players mature on the floor,” Evans said. “As these kids get better and Matt gets closer to returning, you have to be excited about some of the progress a few of these kids have made.”
Johnson Central 61, Knox Central 47
Johnson Cen. 14 13 15 19 61
Knox Cen. 10 9 11 17 47
Johnson Cen. (61) – Blair 23, Hall 9, Adkins 9, Gullett 8, Salyer 6, McKemzie 4, McPeek 2.
Knox Cen. (47) – Hensley 14, Adams 11, Wilburn 8, Marsee 6, Wyatt 3, Hall 2, Tye 2, Merida 1.