By Justin Sokeland
SEYMOUR – The only time Jennings County had the lead was the only two seconds that mattered.
Like the Army of the Dead in Game of Thrones, the Panthers kept rising from the grave to fight some more. And senior guard Keegan Manowitz was the Night King, resurrecting his team from certain doom multiple times before finally banishing Bedford North Lawrence to the eternal torment of finality.
With the Stars on the brink of a sectional-opening upset, Manowitz and the No.9 Panthers dug out of the tomb, shaking off dirt, erasing their obituary, for a double-overtime classic victory in a gymnasium that has seen its share of postseason drama. Add another to the list, this time at BNL’s expense.
Down nine in the second extra session, Jennings breathlessly rallied for a shocking, ultimately-intense 72-71 triumph in the first game of the Class 4A sectional at Lloyd Scott Gymnasium. Manowitz scored 25 points, including the go-ahead free throw, as the Panthers (21-2) advanced to the semifinal to face Jeffersonville (13-8) in the quest for their first sectional title since 2005.
The stunning part was the leads that BNL (16-7) allowed to slip away. Up 12 midway through the fourth quarter, up nine with 2:12 left in regulation, up nine with 2:21 to go in the second overtime. And up five with 1:10 left. So close they could taste it. So far when the final horn sounded.
Jennings, which had conquered the Stars by 11 during the regular-season clash at BNL Fieldhouse, was in trouble for 39:58. Until Manowitz crashed to the basket and drew a foul, making the go-ahead free throw with 2.0 remaining. That was Jennings’ first lead. Period. And when BNL’s Colten Leach couldn’t get a shot airborne at the buzzer, it was the last. Period, end of story.
“Being in trouble and being defeated is two different things,” Jennings coach Josh Land said. “There was never a time I thought my kids gave up. We showed a ton of character. I’m still not sure how we won.”
Where to begin? First, go back to the fourth quarter. Kaedyn Bennett’s layup gave the Stars a 49-37 advantage. Then over the next two minutes, the Panthers – who were only 2 of 18 from long range until that point – exploded for four bombs. Cole Sigler and Manowitz hit two, but two Colton Staggs free throws gave BNL a 52-43 lead with 2:12 left.
Then boom. Carter Kent, always in launch mode, drilled two in a row (following a BNL turnover and two missed free throws) and broke loose for a layup. Then Manowitz ripped a corner trey, and Jennings had scrambled even at 54-54 in 70 seconds.
Again, the Stars surged to the point of victory, with a Leach free throw at :40, with two from Staggs at 23.6. But Manowitz, as anyone would expect from a crafty veteran, drew a collision foul on a 3-pointer at 8.7. He made all three in clutch fashion, and Leach lost control on a spin move to end the BNL response.
After a scoreless first overtime, when both teams needed oxygen, BNL roared back in front with the first nine points of the second extra period. Leach snuck in to steal the tip and scored, then hit a midrange jumper, and Noah Godlevske made single free throws to end the next two trips for a 66-57 advantage. Start the funeral music? Oh, no.
Manowitz hit a bomb, blasted inside for a layup, and Darius Thomas turned a press steal into another layup. Parker Elmore’s drive got JC within 71-68 with 1:03 left. He missed the and-one free throw, but Leach stepped on the end line after winning a fierce battle for that board. Seconds later, for the second time, Manowitz drew another foul behind the 3-line. He again made all three for the 71-71 tie.
When Godlevske missed an open corner trey, Jennings went to Manowitz for the win, and he attacked with a drive through the paint, taking another hit and going to the line. He was clutch.
“I was shooting it, no matter what,” Manowitz said. “I got into the lane, the only option they had was to foul me.”
The heartbreak overshadowed BNL’s sensational run to record a seismic upset. Leach, a senior playing his final game, was carried out on his shield, totaling 28 points and a career-high 19 rebounds.
“What a game he had,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said.
He wasn’t alone. Staggs had 13 points, and Godlevske added 12, including two quick treys that got BNL in front 11-4 and set the tone for Jennings to constantly play from behind.
“That’s a team you went to get out to a lead against, you don’t want to play from behind,” Manowitz said. “It’s crazy that we didn’t lead until the end.”
There are more crazy numbers. Manowitz was 10 of 12 at the line (missing his final one on purpose, with the intent to run out the clock, although he airballed it and gave the Stars a glimpse at hope). Kent had 16 points, although he was only 6 of 24 from the field. The sudden Jennings burst in the fourth quarter, and the Manowitz conversions at the line, were huge.
“Our defense was so good, for so long,” Hein said. “You have to give them a lot of credit. They played great when they needed to play great. Didn’t quit. That was a heck of a game. I don’t think anyone will ask for their money back.
“I’m proud of our kids, the effort they gave. I’m at a loss for words. You can say if we had done this or that, things might have had a different outcome. We got beat by a good basketball team.“
BNL’s ultimate demise can be traced to the foul line. The Stars were 27 of 40, with eight misses in the fourth quarter and two overtimes. That’s the main reason BNL went home, still seeking its first sectional since 2001.
“Free throws, no question,” Hein said. “You have to make free throws. That was a big difference in the ballgame. We knew they would run at us. We had to continue to look to score, look to attack. More than anything, we have to step up and make free throws at the right time. We could have put the game away in the fourth quarter, weren’t able to do it.”
More crazy numbers. Jennings was only 26 of 63 from the field, 8 of 31 from distance. But the Panthers had the definitive playmaker when it counted.
“We were in trouble from the get-go,” Land said. “Bedford came out and hit three 3s in a row to start the game. We played from behind the whole time.
“Keegan made a ton of plays. Bedford did a really good job on Keegan and Carter for the majority of the game, didn’t let us get free. It was hard to get clean looks. But down the stretch . . . Keegan is good, he’s just good. I don’t know how else to say it.
“It was a crazy game. There were so many plays that were game changers. Ugly or pretty, survive and advance. That’s all there is to it. We have to move forward.”
”We were in trouble a lot, too many to count” Manowitz said. “I’m speechless. I don’t even know what to say.”
In the second game, New Albany thumped Floyd Central 60-49. The Bulldogs (10-13, with only their second win in the last 12 games) will now face Seymour (10-12) in the second semifinal on Friday night.
BEDFORD NL STARS (71)
3s FGs FTs nR F Pts
4 Kaedyn Bennett, f 1-2 2-4 4-6 2 1 9
2 Colten Leach, f 0-0 11-19 6-9 19 2 28
22 Colton Staggs, g 1-2 2-7 8-10 2 4 13
1 Trace Rynders, g 0-1 2-3 3-4 2 5 7
11 Noah Godlevske, g 2-4 3-6 4-8 2 1 12
14 Kole Bailey 0-0 0-1 2-2 0 2 2
34 Jett Jones 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
Totals 4-9 20-40 27-40 29 15 71
JENNINGS COUNTY PANTHERS (72)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
21 Owen Law, f 1-3 5-8 0-0 2 5 11
14 Lane Zohrlaut, f 0-0 2-3 0-0 4 2 4
40 Justin Ramey, c 0-1 2-4 1-3 9 4 5
22 Keegan Manowitz, g 3-6 6-12 10-12 9 4 25
5 Carter Kent, g 3-16 6-24 1-1 3 2 16
20 Parker Elmore 0-0 3-3 0-2 2 4 6
4 Darius Thomas 0-2 1-4 0-1 3 3 2
2 Cole Sigler 1-3 1-3 0-0 0 5 3
Totals 8-31 26-63 12-19 33 29 72
Bedford NL 13 12 15 17 0 14 – 71
Jennings Co. 13 11 8 25 0 15 – 72
Turnovers – BNL 13, Jennings County 12
Field goal percentage – BNL 20-40 (.500); Jennings County 26-63 (.413)
Free throw percentage – BNL 27-40 (.675); Jennings County 12-19 (.632)