What can change one player.
The Fort Knox Boys Basketball team heard it first hand in John Hardin Sr. Taj Douglas.
In the first meeting between the two teams on December 13, the Bulldogs were without Douglas, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
Douglas could only watch as the local Eagles rallied to win 66-65.
The 17th District rematch won’t be as close as Douglas exploded on Tuesday with 16 points and 12 rebounds in a 72-58 home court win.
“I was only able to watch this game last time we played at Fort Knox and it killed me,” said Douglas, who ended the series 24-15 in the third quarter with a final six points in favor of everyone but put the game out. reach at 54-37.
“I think they (Fort Knox) thought they could probably come back here and get another victory over us, but I wanted to prove them wrong,” Douglas added. “I wanted to play hard and dominate as best as I could. I felt like I could do it.”
Douglas has been just one of the key players in a solid team game as the Bulldogs have won two of their last three victories since opening the season 0-18.
The defense capped the Eagles at 17 of 50 off the floor (34%), forced 15 assists and held the rebounding lead.
The offense was driven by strong effort on the free throw line, scoring 27 out of 39 attempts.
More importantly, the Bulldogs kept their composure as the Fort Knox made a late rush to close the gap to 10 points in the last 80 seconds.
“Tonight was probably the first time in the whole year that we had seven or eight of the best players who were healthy and played on the floor,” said John Hardin coach Austin Jones. “And it really showed up.
“We shared the ball well,” Jones added. “We were patient in attack. We played well on defense and rebounded well. These are the ingredients for winning basketball.”
Douglas was front and center in the rousing win, the Bulldogs’ first game in the county this year.
His first basket was a pullback with 3:58 left in the first quarter, giving John Hardin a 7-6 lead and an advantage he will never relinquish.
As the Fort Knox closed 13-12 to Shemar Ward’s basket in the second quarter, Douglas responded with two free throws to set off a 17-10 surge and a 30-22 first-half lead.
“I was determined to go out and dominate the scoreboard,” said Douglas, who grabbed seven first-half rebounds, including offense, to lead to four points. “I knew that my teammates would give me the ball on offense. I just needed to be patient.”
Douglas’ offensive burst came in the third period.
Halfway through, he made an accurate pass and made an easy one for a 42–30 lead.
After the Eagles’ Alston Leggett, who led all scorers with 21 points, converted two free throws to make it 48–37, Douglas ended the quarter with a final six points.
He made two consecutive layups in the transition and then got the crowd on their feet with a thunderous dunk to secure a 54-37 lead.
“You know what you get with the Taj,” Jones said. “He plays hard and he plays with a big heart. I’m glad he’s 100% healthy now because he’s very valuable to us.”
For the “eagles” the outcome of the game could be decided in the first half, when they missed a few shots on the ring.
This gave impetus to John Hardin, who gradually took the lead.
“We certainly missed a lot of opportunities early on,” said Fort Knox coach Kip Rambo. “We landed most of those shots and maybe we have an eight or 10 lead.
“I’m not disappointed,” Rambo added. “Some things we did well. I was pleased with the effort. I was pleased with how hard we played at the end of the game to give them food for thought. We just need to play so hard to get more games.”
72 points was a season-high for the Bulldogs (2–19, 1–5).
Andre Smith scored 16 points, including two three-pointers. Evan Woodside added 13 points, Jake Owens added 12, Marquis Hayes added seven, Robert Bertolucci and Ruckynn Lynch each added three, and Jayden Lay added two.
At Fort Knox (5-12, 1-5), Leggett scored 21 points, including a three-pointer and 10 of 12 free throws.
Maurice Bonner had 14 points, Orlando Silva-Warren had 12, Isa Williams had five, and Anthony Casey, Dereon McNulty and Ward had two each.