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The Spencer County Bears opened their season last Monday night with a 73-63 loss at home to Waggener. It was the first game for new coach Jason Burns, and while he would have preferred a victory, the outing did signal an exciting brand of basketball from a young team that won’t easily give up.
Several times the visiting Wildcats appeared to have the Bears on the ropes and ready for the knockout punch, only to have the Bears stage a rally and keep the game interesting, but couldn’t overcome the dominant size advantage of Waggener.
Spencer County took an early 2-0 lead on a turnaround jumper by Cameron Fitts and led 4-3 when Waggener began its first spurt that was started by a dunk off a rebound that energized the visitors. They quickly raced out to a 12-4 lead, but back-to-back three pointers by Fitts put the Bears and their fans back into the game and the Bears trailed 14-12 after one quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, Bears guard Jamal Downs drove for a bucket and followed seconds later with two free throws to tie the game at 20 before Waggener went on a 13-3 run to end the half with a 33-23 lead.
In the third quarter, three-pointers by Kynan Smith and Fitts kept the Bears within striking distance and Waggener continued to dominate the inside and the boards. The Wildcats got most of their points in the paint and off rebounds, but the Bears refused to go away. Down 50-33 late in the third quarter, Fitts, Blake Lambdin and Smith connected on three straight treys to cut the lead to ten points.
Estevan Cordoba started off the fourth quarter with a three-pointer of his own and suddenly the lead was back to single digits at 54-47. Another three-pointer by Lambdin whittled it down to 58-52 and the rowdy student section for Spencer County was on its feet to help fuel the rally.
Waggener recovered and went back up by 11 points before Cordoba converted an old-fashioned three-point play. The Bears continued to hang tough and another three-pointer by Lambdin was complimented by a foul underneath on Fitts, who then sank two free-throws for a rare five-point trip and the deficit was back to six points with just under four minutes left.
The Bears forced a turnover and could have chipped even more off the lead, but they were unable to convert and Waggener was able to hit some free throws down the stretch to pull the lead back to ten for the final 73-63 margin.
Burns said he was pleased overall with how his boys fought.
“Overall, I thought we played really well and really hard,” said Burns. “Waggener is a very good team. They are picked sixth in their region behind the likes of Ballard and Trinity. We just made some bad mistakes at critical times and didn’t make enough plays to win. We we’re able to compete and be there in the end, which was a very big positive.”
Fitts led the way for the Bears with 22 points while Lambdin chipped in with 14. Downs and Smith each added eight points, Cordoba scored seven and Robert Currie added four.
Burns said before the season that his team would have to rely on the three-pointer, and that was evident in the Waggener game, with the Bears scoring nearly half their points on 10 shots behind the arc. Four different Bears hit long shots and Burns said even more players will be needed to hit that shot in the future. “We’re counting on a few more to step up and they know they are more than capable.”
Burns said his team will be undersized in most games this year, but there are ways to combat that disadvantage.
“A lot of their second chance points were due to poor rotation defensively on our part. We just have to try to be quicker and make sure we are the most physical team,” said Burns. He added that they must also do a better job creating turnovers off the press.
Burns admitted that nerves may have played a role in his team getting behind early on, and said he wasn’t immune to the butterflies early on as he took the floor for the first time as a head coach. However, the first game is now out of the way and the season may be an exciting one if Monday’s opener is any indication.
Burns had high praise for the fans and the student section who filled up their end of the gym and wore neon clothes for some added color.
“The student section was great and we loved the showing from our students. It is very important for our players to have our sixth man and have the support from everyone. Our players really get up and get excited when the stands are full and active.”
The Bears were scheduled to play Whitefield Academy on Monday night and will host Bullitt East Thursday night and Western Hills next Monday.