By Jonathan Kleppinger
9:56 PM EST, February 15, 2013
East Jessamine overcame a slow start and poor shooting Friday night to take a scrappy game against Danville 60-51.
The Jaguars (22-7) will enter the postseason having won 11 of their last 12 games. They struggled early Friday as the Admirals (10-14) came out in a zone. East trailed 12-10 after the first quarter.
"They weren't ready," East coach Chris O'Bryan said. "They were in that 3-2 zone, and we didn't have anybody cutting; we didn't have anybody flashing; we were just looking at people we were trying to throw the ball to."
With the district-tournament bracket for next week already set and six seniors honored before the game, O'Bryan said his players may have been distracted early. The first half continued to grind on, with sophomore Ronnie Carson getting a steal and a bucket to tie the game 22-22 at the break. Carson scored half of East's points in the first half and finished with 21 to lead the Jaguars.
The Jaguars picked up a full-court press in the third quarter and got three straight steals and scores to force a Danville timeout with the Admirals down 14 points at 37-23. The East defense held Danville to just four points — one field goal and two free throws — in the third period.
O'Bryan said his team could have put the game away at that point.
"In the third quarter, we came out and changed our defense up a little bit — obviously that gave us a little bit of a spark, but then we didn't respond after the timeouts like we needed to do," O'Bryan said. "... At that point, you've got to really go for the jugular, and we didn't."
The Admirals came storming back early in the fourth quarter, running off seven straight points and then five more moments later to pull within three points 41-38 with 4:42 left in the game.
The tension in the gym hit its high point with 4:03 left when East senior point guard Taylor Harper was called for his fourth foul and then received a technical while he stood on the side of the lane waiting for the free throws. Admiral senior forward Alex Burnside knocked down the technical free throws to pull Danville within two points, and the Jaguars were looking at the final four minutes of the game without their floor general.
"Whenever your leader goes out in any situation, you're curious as to how the team's going to respond. At that moment, that's when you think, 'Wow — who's going to do what?'" O'Bryan said. "They did a good job handling the ball ... (senior guard) Mike Jones played a great game, did a great job with the ball, and that's what you've got to have in those situations."
East scored its final 17 points on the free-throw line, with senior Timmy Bradshaw converting 7-of-7 in the closing minutes. Bradshaw did not score a point in the first half but dumped in 11 in the fourth quarter to hold Danville at bay; he finished with 14 points.
"He didn't get frustrated — he kept playing, kept digging, kept clawing, and still ended up scoring all those points and hitting those free throws down the stretch; he's a valuable member, an asset to the team," O'Bryan said.
Jones tacked on 11 points on the night. Sophomore guard Hayden Smith added five; Harper scored four; and senior Kameren Reed scored a bucket and a free throw.
The Jaguars recognized their six seniors before the game — Jones, Harper, Bradshaw, Reed, Austin Dean and Jarod Rocco. Rocco has been out for the season with an injury but was well enough to start the game and get a bucket the Admirals conceded to him.
"Every one of (the seniors) has dedicated their heart and soul to this program — you can't ask for more as a coach," O'Bryan said. "Every single one of them, in their own way, has brought something to this team, to this program, that's going to last. There are very few teams that can say they've won 22 games in the regular season; they rank themselves up there with the best of the best."
East could meet cross-county rival West Jessamine for a third time this season in the district championship next week if both teams win their semifinal games Monday at East. The Jaguars match up against Mercer County (15-12) at 7:45 p.m. Monday.
"I like where we are mentally; I like where we are physically," O'Bryan said. "We're going to go out there and give it our best shot."