By John Stepp For The Times-Tribune
For the second time in as many games the Knox Central Panthers dropped a district game, this time at the hands of their cross-town rival the Barbourville Tigers in a 44-42 overtime thriller.
The win wrapped up the No. 1 seed for Barbourville in the 51st district, and helped solidify Dinky Phipps’ squad as a team on the rise in the 13th Region.
The Tigers couldn’t have pulled off the win without their star senior guard Devon Mills, who scored a game-high 18 points. Mills scored six of his team’s eight points in overtime, including the game winner with no time remaining on the clock.
“Devon is a very good basketball player. My kids kind of refuse to lose. They’re going to out hustle you. That's the way we practice and I’m proud of them,” said Phipps. “Devon just took it on himself tonight. I told him to take it to the hole. If they fouled us, we were in the bonus, but if it goes in we win. Somehow it went in and we won the game.”
The game was back and forth throughout the first quarter. With both offenses coming out fired up the teams raced to a 13-13 tie after one. Mills scored six points in the quarter, while sharp shooting Knox Central guard Jeffrey Adams paced the Panthers with five.
The Tiger defense tightened up in the second quarter. With a heavy dose of their pressure defense Barbourville held the Panthers to just two field goals in the period, and held on to a 23-20 advantage after the first half.
Knox Central, who is still without point guard Matthew Barger, struggled from the field in the final three quarters of regulation. After knocking down six shots in the first quarter, the Panthers only made nine more baskets for the entire game.
“I was proud of my team tonight. My guys didn’t quit and they worked hard to do what we were prepared to do. They battled and we put ourselves in the position to win the game,” said Knox Central coach Brian Evans. “My guys don't have anything to feel ashamed or negative about. It’s a tough loss, but they did everything I asked them to do.”
Barbourville went up by as many as six in the third quarter when a basket by point guard Tanner Moore gave the Tigers a 33-27 lead. Knox Central came roaring back to open the fourth quarter when a three-point basket by Adams and a layup by Chad Marsee tied the game at 35 apiece.
After traded baskets, Knox Central got the ball with just under two minutes to go in regulation and stalled for the last shot. With the score at 37 apiece, Adams drove to the basket for the win, but Barbourville’s Alexander Phipps forced a jump ball with less than two seconds left. Phipps heaved a desperation shot from half court on the ensuing play, but it was wide left, sending the game into overtime.
“I thought our team played great defense down the stretch when we needed it,” said Phipps. “Knox Central has a fine ball team. This was a good game tonight. It was a tournament atmosphere and the fans got their money's worth.”
With the score tied at 42 apiece in the overtime period, Knox Central went to stall for the last shot again, before a Dustin Hensley pass was stolen by the Tigers. Mills scored one final time as the clock wound down to give Barbourville the 44-42 victory.
“It’s probably my fault. Maybe it was a little too long to hold the ball, but our thinking was if they were going to stay in the zone, we could read where the pressure was from and if we got something good we’d take it. But if not, why not take the last one,” said Evans. “Our guys want to keep competing and get better. We'll just keep working and try to improve on this game.”
Barbourville 44, Knox Central 42
Barbourville 13 10 12 2 7 44
Knox Central 13 7 10 7 5 42
Barbourville (44) - Mills 18, Jason Mills 10, Moore 8, Zach Strong 4, Phipps 3, Jacob Rose 1.
Knox Central (42) - Hensley 13, Adams 11, Marsee 10, Tobie Merida 7, Jared Hall 1.