The little things – those cursed little things that basketball coaches can’t stand to see ignored – proved a big factor in Polk County’s 68-63 loss Tuesday to Hendersonville.
Most of those moments occurred in and around the foul line.
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Then again, so did most of the game.
Unofficially, the Bearcats and Wolverines combined for 74 free throws during Polk County’s final regular-season home game of the season. The lion’s share of those were taken by the Bearcats, who made 26 of their 51 attempts.
That percentage, while not stellar, surpassed that of Polk County, which finished 11-of-23 at the line and allowed Hendersonville a couple of key putbacks of missed foul shots late in the game. Take away those baskets, maybe toss in a couple of made free throws on those misses and the Wolverines might well have walked away with a win in the final Western Highlands Conference meeting between these two schools for at least the next four years, thanks to realignment.
“We pushed them. We did everything we could do except hit free throws,” said Polk County head coach Antoni Staley. “Those free throws were killers.”
Even missing two key injured contributors, Hendersonville (10-8, 5-7) held a 35-28 halftime edge, extended it to 51-38 by the end of the third period and appeared poised to run away with the lead in the final quarter.
Polk County (3-19, 0-11) quickly signaled that wouldn’t be the case. Clark Phipps hit a 3-pointer and Markell Lipscomb scored to cut the lead to 10 to open the final period. The Bearcats kept it there until midway through the fourth, when Jaymes Wingo, Phipps, Lipscomb and some tenacious defense sparked a surge that brought the Wolverines to within two, 58-56, with 2:16 left.
But Hendersonville kept Polk County at bay, thanks in part to Blake Hamrick’s efforts at the foul line and Kalin Ensley’s efforts in the foul lane. Hamrick hit 4-of-7 foul shots in the final 1:35. Two of those misses were immediately rebounded and put back by Ensley, and Polk County got no closer than four points in the final two minutes.
“I’m pleased with the fourth quarter effort,” Staley said. “I’m pleased with the whole game. The effort was the same all night and there was no giving up.
“Those missed free throws are going to haunt me.”
One of four seniors honored before the game, Wingo finished with 15 points to lead Polk County, with Lipscomb adding 12 and Phipps and Jaylon Bontrager each scoring nine.
Brandon Bacher finished with five points, Dillon Overholt and Seth Hardin each scored four points, Rustin Muse added three and Amir Gary scored two for the Wolverines. Bacher, Muse and Malik Miller were the other seniors recognized.
Polk County concludes its regular season on Wednesday, traveling to Madison for the conference and season finale.