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Defending champs rally for win over North Laurel

CORBIN — While being a defending regional champ isn’t worth any actual points on the scoreboard, there may be something to the mindset it can bring, especially for a team like Knox Central. The Panthers broke a 49-year regional championship drought last season with a win over North Laurel in the finals. That experience may have paid off Thursday in the rematch in the opening round. Knox rallied from a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter to advance with a 66-64 victory.

“They are expected to win, every game we play. I don’t care if it’s out of state or the best or the worst. They are expected to win,” Knox Central coach Tony Patterson said. “They know that. I expect nothing less. They are starting to get that mindset. These kids right here have changed the culture at that high school.”

North Laurel coach Nate Valentine pointed to a couple of key stats in the loss, especially free throws (five of 11) and a 37-28 deficit on the boards.

“We missed free throws and didn’t rebound. You’re not going to win a regional tournament game that way,” Valentine said. “You’re not going to win a regional tournament game giving up 18 offensive rebounds. That’s been our Achilles heel all season long, and I was afraid it was going to bite us at the end, and it did. Knox Central is a good team. I thought we were better, but they outplayed us tonight.”

Four Panthers reached double figures in the win, led by senior forward Kevionte Turner with 17. Zach Patterson tossed in 16, followed by Jevonte Turner with 15 and Isaac Mills with 11.

Freshman Reed Sheppard and Ryan Davidson led the 22-10 Jaguars with 25 and 18 points, respectively, but both missed key shots down the stretch when Knox rallied. Two Mills free throws with 1:32 left gave Knox a 62-61 lead. Davidson missed two shots in the paint on North’s next possession, then Sheppard missed twice at the line after Mills pushed the lead four. Patterson found Jevonte Turner for a basket that extended the KC advantage to five.

A Sheppard 3-pointer cut the deficit to two, then North fouled Patterson with 1.6 seconds left. Patterson missed both free throws, but Sheppard’s shot from halfcourt was off the mark.

“It’s a big atmosphere and a big moment in a high level game,” Patterson said. “Both teams went through stretches where they couldn’t make shots, but our kids didn’t quit, and that’s a really good trait to have. They have a lot of heart.”

Patterson said the Panthers finally adjusted to North’s defense after eight straight points by Sheppard and two free throws from Cole Kelley gave North a 61-55 lead.

“They run that 2-2-1 three quarters and we worked on that for three days,” Patterson said. “We weren’t attacking it. We had to call a timeout, settle them down and remind them what they were suppose to do. We finally got an easy bucket, then it was easy for them from then on.”

Knox took a 6-0 lead on 3s by Jevonte Turner and Kevionte Turner before North reeled off 11 unanswered points, led by three baskets from Davidson. A Patterson 3 cut the deficit to one before Isaiah Alexander answered to extend the Jaguars’ lead to 17-13 after one quarter.

The lead changed hands on four straight possessions midway through the second period. Baskets by the Turner brothers and a 3 from Patterson put the Panthers up by three before Davidson and Caden Harris closed the half with baskets to put North on top 34-33 at the break.

The lead changed hands five more times to start the third quarter before Knox was able to build a five-point lead on two occasions. Baskets by Davidson and Noah Black pulled the Jaguars within one, at 49-48, going into the final period.

North loses two senior starters in Kelley and Alexander and a couple of key reserves but will have a solid corps returning, led by the region’s top two freshmen.

“We had two freshmen and a sophomore out there tonight. Hopefully, they will continue to learn and continue to grow and this will fuel them going into next season,” Valentine said.

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North Laurel 17 17 14 16 — 64

Knox Central 13 20 16 17 — 66

Knox Central (66) — Isaac Mills 11, Kevionte Turner 17, Zach Patterson 16, Abram Brock 5, Jevonte Turner 15, Colby Elliott 2, Jacob Abner 0.

North Laurel (64) — Reed Sheppard 25, Cole Kelley 4, Isaiah Alexander 8, Ryan Davidson 18, Caden Harris 4, Clay Sizemore 3, Noah Black 2, Nate Bruner 0, Isaiah Elmore 0.