East Jessamine’s 76-65 win over Woodford County on Monday night reached both ends of the spectrum. The Jaguars (7-3) went from an 8-0 hole to a 23-point cushion to an 8-point nail-biter in the final minutes.
“I’d love to sit here and say that was just inexperience, but credit (Woodford) for the way they kept digging and clawing at us,” East Jessamine coach Chris O’Bryan said.
The Yellowjackets (6-2), who had just one loss on the season coming in, stung East right away. They rattled off eight points in less than two minutes — six of which came from beyond the three-point line.
East took a well-placed timeout and came out with a rally of its own to get back in the game. Sophomore Hayden Smith capped the 7-0 run with a three-pointer from the corner. The big basket was just the start of his career night. Smith hit four three-pointers and was 3-for-3 from the free-throw line for 17 total points in 23 minutes — a career best.
“Hayden has been playing really well. During spurts of JV games, we kind of felt like he was coming along,” O’Bryan said. “You can tell that when he’s feeling it, he’s feeling it. He’s as good a shooter as we’ve had at our program. Timmy (Bradshaw) is one of the best pure shooters and Hayden right there along with him ... He’s been working hard in practice, and it’s paied off for him.”
The run got East back in the game, but the Jags didn’t tie the game until Mike Jones hit a free throw with 20 seconds remaining in the first to make it 16-all.
Timmy Bradshaw opened the second period with a basket-and-one to give East Jessamine a 19-16 lead that it never relinquished in spite of runs by Woodford.
East continued to build on its lead; however, it also began to fall into foul trouble. Bradshaw, Jones and Taylor Harper picked up their second fouls of the night, and Kameren Reed picked up his third.
Smith sank another big three-pointer to close the first half for East. The Jags took a 34-25 lead into halftime.
With a nine-point advantage, East went for the jugular coming out of the break. Two three-pointers by Bradshaw sandwiched a two-pointer by Ronnie Carson. Bradshaw finished with 19 points; Carson had a team-high 29 and was 12-for-15 from the free-throw line.
East Jessamine rattled off 12 straight points before Woodford scored on an inside shot with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter.
Around the four-minute mark of the quarter, momentum began to shift in Woodford’s favor. Carson and Harper each picked up their third foul within seconds of each other. Not long thereafter, Reed combined his fourth and fifth fouls in a 12-second span and was done for the night.
Carson became East’s sole contributor on the offensive end, scoring its final six points of the quarter.
Woodford was down 54-31 before scoring six points in the final 35 seconds of the quarter to make it a 54-37 game.
The Jaguars took another blow at the 6:40 mark of the fouth quarter as Harper picked up his fourth foul. Following his brief exit, Woodford went on a 12-2 run to pull within 59-51 with 4:50 remaining.
“We put Taylor back in ... he came in and really solidified us. He got us calmed down and (was just) the senior that he is and the leader that he is,” O’Bryan said. “Taylor was battling foul trouble the whole game, and to come in for that last little stretch there and not pick up a fifth, that was huge for us.”
O’Bryan said during Woodford’s run, his team wasn’t playing to win.
“We were playing just to hold on and hopefully not lose. They weren’t being aggressive; they weren’t looking to attack; they were just going through the motions,” O’Bryan said. “Honestly, it looked like they were losing the game versus winning the game.”
A pair of Carson free throws stopped the bleeding, and Smith sank another big three-pointer from the corner to make it 64-51 with 3:24 to play.
Free throws contributed to East’s one-point loss to Boyle County two weeks ago, but the Jaguars were much improved from the line Monday. They hit 9-of-12 attempts in the fourth quarter and were 24-for-31 (77 percent) on the night.
“I think the kids are just concentrating a little harder and a little better,” O’Bryan said.
In contrast, Woodford was 9-for-20 from the line on the night.
The free throws by Carson, Smith and Bradshaw in the final three minutes helped East Jessamine stave off Woodford County.
Woodford had a height and size advantage on the Jags, but East won the rebounding battle 40-36; Jones had a team-high nine and Harper collected eight.
“(Woodford) is huge and has a lot of size; what we talked about in practice was we wanted to get as much pressure on the post and offer as much help as we could and try to limit their touches,” O’Bryan said. “I thought we did a good job. Of course to start off the game we give up two wide-open threes where we didn’t contest; I think our focus may have been a little too much (on the post). After that, I thought we did a really job of sitting down and playing some of our better defense of the year.”
The win over the Yellowjackets came a year and a day after East’s 71-61 loss at Woodford County — East’s first loss of the 2011-’12 season.
East Jessamine is in action again Friday at the People’s Bank Classic at Madison Souther. The Jags will face South Laurel at 1:30 p.m. and Buckhorn at 5 p.m. East will also play Saturday; the time and opponent has not been announced.