Jackson County coach Ty Baumgardner let his team know at the beginning of the season that he despises losing.
“I’m one of the most competitive dudes in anything,” he said. “But I can swallow losing if I know we gave it everything we had and we were tough and we fought.”
Friday night was one of those nights Baumgardner could live with.
The Jackson County boys’ basketball team took No. 7-ranked Franklin County down to the wire in a 53-48 loss at home. The Panthers (3-4, 1-2 Region 8-AAA) trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half before rallying. Jackson County was within a basket with 37 seconds remaining. The Lions (10-1, 4-0 Region 8-AAA) didn’t seal the win until a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left to put them ahead by five points.
“We could have folded,” Baumgardner said. “We didn’t — we didn’t. That shows growth … We were right there. A call here or there, who knows?”
Junior standout Kalib Clinton, who entered the game averaging 26.3 points and 10.8 rebounds a game, put on another offensive show, scoring 31 points with 12 boards. He went 14-of-19 from the free throw line.
“I told him (Clinton) this, and I told it to him in front of everybody: The only player that can stop Kalib is Kalib,” Baumgardner said. “When his head is screwed on right, he’s a handful. He showed that tonight, and he’s showed it for the most part every game this early part in the season.”
After falling down 42-28 late in the third quarter and trailing by 13 entering the fourth quarter, the Panthers rallied behind their star. Clinton scored six points in the first 4:48 of the final frame to help pull Jackson County within seven points (44-37). A put-back by Bryce Blake narrowed the lead to five points. Clinton scored on a breakaway dunk with 1:39 left to cut the lead to 44-41. Blake missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 1:27 remaining.
Jackson County later had a chance to tie the game in the final minute. Down 47-45, Clinton stole the ball near the baseline and dunked but a foul was called on the steal with 37 seconds left.
Titus Brown, who led Franklin County with 19 points, knocked down both ensuring free throws. Brown went 11-of-12 at the line.
Micah Roebuck then sank a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left to increase the lead Lions’ lead to six points.
Clinton buried a 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining, but Keylan Rutledge put the game away by knocking down two foul shots with 12 seconds left.
In the loss, the Panthers were hampered by a cold third quarter, scoring just four points, as Franklin County stretched a 28-25 halftime lead to 42-29 at the end of three quarters.
“We’ve got to try to get that fixed,” Baumgardner said of the third-quarter lapse. “Because for whatever reason, that’s kind of happened to us more than once. We’ll have a quarter when we just can’t get the ball in the basket.”
But Baumgardner said that his team rebounding from that quarter and giving itself a chance to win the game demonstrated grit.
“We showed some real mental toughness there,” he said. “That, in turn, allowed us to show some physical toughness and get back in that game.”
Jackson County moves on to face Morgan County Tuesday on the road at 7:30 p.m. in another region game. The Bulldogs have won three state titles in the past six seasons but are off to a 1-5 start this year.
“It’s still Morgan County,” Baumgardner said. “They’re still good. They’re better than their record. They’ve played a very difficult schedule. We’ll have our hands full, but, again, if we just show some toughness and execute our game plan, we’ll see what happens.”