In the game’s final moments, history seemed poised to repeat itself last Tuesday.
With junior Jalil Smith tying up the game 37-37 with a three-point shot, the Marion County Knights looked to drag Hart County into overtime and, like their win over Russell County the week before, salvage another close game.
Despite the team’s best efforts, the game would instead be decided six seconds later.
Among the shouts and cheers of both Marion and Hart County fans, a final free throw by Hart County off a Marion County foul sent those hopes crashing down, the evening ending 38-37 for Hart County and dropping the Knights to 1-14 on the season.
While ultimately not a victory for the Knights, the eventual loss obscures a strong performance from the team. Despite the departure of starting senior Markell Bell from the roster and Mason May still recovering from a concussion, the Knights forced the A game out of the Raiders in a close 32-minute back-and-forth that saw both teams struggle for the lead.
“Juniors, sophomores, freshmen, they all have stepped up,” said head Knights coach Maze Stallworth. “They have been great, their response has been great. I love this time watching these guys play their best.”
Beginning by carving out a slim lead in the first quarter via a pair of two-point shots by freshman Christian Rucker, the Knights made their presence felt on the court early on.
While the Raiders pulled ahead in the second quarter, entering halftime 20-16 after their additional two-point shots in the final two minutes of the half and initially expanding on their lead in the opening minutes of the third quarter, the Knights hit back hard. Beginning with a three-point shot by Nick Mullins, the Knights followed up his efforts with a pair of field goals by fellow junior Brady Hutchins for five points and a series of free throws to tie up the game going into its final eight minutes at 28-28.
The Knights and Raiders proceeded to meet one another mostly tit for tat in the following quarter. The final minutes ultimately rested on Smith’s shoulders, the junior scoring seven of the Knights’ nine points in the quarter, and sinking their last basket after a flurry of attempts by the team responding to a three-point shot by Hart County after previously tying the game 34-34.
“I think they played their best tonight,” said Stallworth. “They played unselfishly and tried to play within themselves… we had some great shots in there but we just missed a few. We missed a layup and I think it could have been the difference between winning and losing the game but the kids played hard.”
The Knights were led in points scored by Hutchins with 13 followed by Smith with 11.
Unlike last week, the team seems to have a packed schedule ahead of it. Having already played Franklin County on Tuesday the Knights will be hitting the road again on Friday to take on the Garrard County Golden Lions on Friday and the Boyle County Rebels on Saturday.