FLEMINGSBURG - If Fleming County knocked down 60 percent of their free throws Monday night, they'd be sitting at 1-0 in the district.
Instead the Panthers had crucial miss after crucial miss in a 74-72 loss to Menifee County, dropping to 1-3 on the season and 0-1 in the 61st District.
Fleming did almost everything else right for the most part, but the 15-for-30 from the line stuck out the most in the heartbreaking loss in which they led by eight points with less than six minutes left.
"I put all our numbers out there, almost 40 rebounds, 25 deflections, only 12 turnovers and you probably ask me how much we won by," Panthers coach Chris Stapleton said. "Then you ask me how we did on free throws. That's just a last mental hurdle we have to get over. It's just mental for a lot of guys."
Menifee's hopes looked to be going down the drain once star player Dalton Barnett looked to have turned an ankle midway through the third quarter. He had 12 points and five rebounds at the time, getting timely baskets when the Wildcats needed it.
"I kept looking for him to come back," Wildcats coach Tim Swartz said.
Barnett would have to get helped off the floor and after his exit, the Panthers went on a 10-2 run to build a 55-43 lead with just over two minutes left in the third.
But Barnett would re-enter. And make his presence felt. The senior scored the final six points of the quarter to get the Wildcats within 55-49 at the end of three.
Then the mishaps at the line began for Fleming. In the bonus early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers would go 7-of-16 from the charity stripe in the final frame, helping the Wildcats claw back into it miss by miss.
It was Dalton Martin giving Menifee a 63-61 lead with less than four minutes to play and Barnett would follow with consecutive baskets to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the night at 67-61, with less than three minutes to play.
The Panthers would scrap back in it though with their pressure defense, forcing 20 turnovers on the night and attacking the offensive glass.
"We get 19 offensive rebounds tonight. We need to work on converting on some easier shots around the rim and finishing, but I like the way we're heading and think we'll be okay," Stapleton said. " I can't fault our effort, our effort was there all night long."
Josh Crump's 3-point play gave Fleming the lead back at 70-69 with 1:23 remaining.
Josh Crump. Hoop. Harm. Panthers lead 70-69, 1:23 to go: pic.twitter.com/DUoDfM6wTm— Evan Dennison (@EvanDennison1) December 5, 2017
After the free throw, Menifee would respond with a Travis Trimble mid-range jumper followed by a Barnett tough bucket in the lane, giving them a 73-70 lead with 25 seconds to go.
Crump ensued with a layup at the 10-second mark, making it 73-72. A foul on Trimble brought him to the line with seven seconds remaining. He'd hit 1-of-2 and without any timeouts left, Panthers' Jaden Campbell drove the length of the floor and his running layup at the horn bounced off the back of the rim and out, buzzer sounding and a 74-72 Wildcats victory.
Menifee County sneaks out of Flemingsburg with a win over Fleming County, 74-72: pic.twitter.com/41dj6ZvOZJ— Evan Dennison (@EvanDennison1) December 5, 2017
"People will look at Menifee County and say they've been down the past couple years and say it's a bad loss. I'm telling you right now if you underestimate that Menifee County team and Barnett, they are going to get you," Stapleton said.
It was a 25-point fourth quarter for the Wildcats, playing their season opener after having a game with Raceland cancelled last week.
"We dribbled eight-foot dribbles, we usually don't do eight-foot dribbles. We looked bad our first few possessions, you could tell we were tight but we knew we could play with these guys. I've got a team I think can compete with people this year," Swartz said. "A lot of people might be shocked by this result, but we're going to be pretty good I think."
Barnett led the Wildcats with 29 points, 16 of them coming in the final 10 minutes upon return from his ankle injury. Jerry Henry chipped in 12 points while Trimble added 11. Menifee will continue district play over their next two games with games against Bath County and Rowan County.
"The district is going to be a dog fight," Stapleton said. "You think about it standing-wise, we're one game back, now we've just got to take care of our business moving forward. We're already talking about playing Bath County next week and getting that game back in the district. We'll be prepared, you can't predict anything, but I think our guys our still in the right mindset and wanting to get better."
For the Panthers, Kaleb Flanery led the way with 22 points, however, didn't score in the fourth. Josh Crump, Cole Saunders and Jaden Campbell also hit double figures with 17, 15 and 13 point respectively.
"There's talent on this team. When you think about Josh Crump and Cole Saunders were the ones to get varsity minutes last year and that's it. We're getting better, we've got better from last week to this week game-wise, we've just to keep working and getting better together," Stapleton said.
Jordan Hughes provided multiple second chance opportunities with 11 rebounds and also played big down low on the defensive end with five blocks.
The Panthers will have a weekend getaway in Louisville, traveling to play St. Francis on Friday and Louisville Holy Cross on Saturday. Friday's game starts at 8 p.m. Saturday aims for a 4 p.m. start.