THE JACKSON County boys’ basketball team is tackling the stretch run of its season amidst a transition in its coaching ranks.
The squad is 1-1 after the exit of first-year coach Mark DeFoor, who resigned Tuesday, Jan. 21. DeFoor was unable to be reached for comment.
Assistant coach Chuck Butler — a former Jackson County player — has taken over interim head coaching duties and guided the Panthers (7-13) to a 57-54 win against Franklin County Jan. 21 before a 77-74 loss to Oconee County Friday.
With three regular season games remaining, the Panthers hope to make a late-season push while at the same time getting used to Butler calling the shots.
“I think the boys are responding well,” said Butler, who had served previous stints as an assistant coach at Jackson County before joining DeFoor this year. “We talked about — along with trust being a factor — about patience and understanding. That they would get patience from my end in that transition and being patient with themselves and being patient with their teammates.”
Butler’s second game as head coach saw Jackson County nearly erase an 11-point deficit very late against Oconee County.
The Panthers trailed 67-56 with 1:50 left but caught fire very late, cutting the visiting Warriors’ lead to 77-74 with a 3-pointer from Antonio Strickland with four seconds left.
Oconee County’s Chance Peden missed a pair of free throws, leaving the door open for some final-second heroics. But Strickland’s half-court heave missed the mark as the buzzer sounded, dropping the Panthers to 3-6 in 8-AAA play.
“They just played really hard, and that’s what I told them back in the locker room,” said Butler, whose team scored 31 points in the fourth quarter. “That kind of effort is why we don’t really judge our success off the scoreboard.”
Layson Giles paced the Panthers with 19 points, but Butler pointed to Giles’ play defensively foremost.
“His presence in the paint has really helped us because it’s allowed us to come out and bring pressure, knowing that he’s protecting the goal for us,” explained Butler, who said Giles’ defensive spark has spilled over into his offensive game.
Jackson County shot well from the outside in the second half in its comeback attempt. Strickland hit four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points, all of which came in the final two quarters. Nathan Robards finished with 11 points, which included a fourth-quarter 3-pointer that cut Oconee County’s lead to 74-71 with 21 seconds left.
“A lot of guys stepped up there with threes right there in the end,” Butler said. “Our theme this week has been trust – just attacking, execute the offense, kick it out and trust that your teammate is going to step up and make the shot.”
Jackson County, however, found itself having to dig out of multiple holes.
It trailed 9-1 right off the bat before rallying behind Giles, who scored 10 points in the first quarter to pull the Panthers even with Oconee County at 15 heading into the second quarter. Jackson County then trailed 32-30 at the half before being outscored 13-0 to start the third quarter.
“We just had a slow start in the first half and a slow start in the second half,” Butler said. “That kind of put us behind.”
Jackson County, which was scheduled to play Morgan County Tuesday, now has regular season games remaking with North Oconee, Hart County and East Jackson as it continues its late-season transition to Butler as coach.
“We’ve just kind of got to regroup here late in the season while we’re in the middle of the region run and all come together,” Butler said. “Hopefully that adversity, that kind of different situation, is kind of turned to a positive in building our team chemistry.”