James, Defense Lead the Way for Independence at Centennial

Centennials Asharri Hayesworth mans the middle of the Cougars' defense.

FRANKLIN—Independence’s defense tightened up after a rough first quarter, and Mac James hit free throws down the stretch, as the Eagles went to Centennial and pulled a 47-43 stunner on Friday.

James hit two foul shots with 11.9 seconds left to put Independence up, 45-41. The Eagles’ point guard was 9-for-12 from the foul line, and finished with a game-high 16. Matt St. Charles added nine points for Independence.

After Centennial’s Patrick Garrett hit a lay-up with 2.4 seconds left and was fouled, the Cougars had a shot. Garrett missed the foul shot on purpose, but the Cougars couldn’t secure the rebound. That’s when the Eagles’ Kamden Byrum went to the line and sunk two on the other end to ice the game.

Center Asharri Haynesworth led the Cougars with 12 points, and Tre Carlton chipped in eight. Centennial led 18-9 at the end of the first quarter, but a two-point second quarter paved the way for bad things later.

It was a big win for coach Jarrett Jones and Independence. Wins have been scarce for the Eagles’ first-year coach. It was also a far cry from the Dec. 12 game between the teams, which Centennial won, 57-39.

“We needed one. Going into postseason play, with our position in the district, we needed that win, the confidence booster,” Jones said. “The guys have worked their butts off all year. Played hard, fought hard for me through a lot of losses. Fought hard for each other.

“Tonight was one of those nights where I thought everybody was on the same page. They wanted it, they needed it, and we got it. So I’m really happy for these young men in this locker room.”

Independence, trailing by nine early, took its first lead since early in the first quarter at 24-23 when Luke Morel hit a 3 from the left side midway through the third quarter.

That lead soon became six. James hit a pair of technicals resulting from a Haynesworth technical foul. Then, Noah Morrison hit a 3 from the right corner to make it 29-23 late in the third period.

Centennial’s Hayden Pearson then made a pair of huge plays, feeding Garrett for a fast-break lay-up, then, nailing a 3 from the left corner for a 32-31 advantage.

Next, the Cougars’ Dusty Williams converted a three-point play from a lay-up on the right side, then a free throw. A Garrett 3 from the left corner put the Cougars up, 38-32.

Back came Independence with an 8-0 run, thanks to a pair of 3s from Morel and St. Charles, for a 40-38 Eagles’ lead. The Eagles never trailed again.

Post, transition defense pave the way for Independence

Centennial, leading 18-9 after the first quarter, appeared as if it would run away with things early. The Cougars pushed the tempo and got some good looks in transition on the offensive end, and controlled the paint with Haynesworth inside on both ends.

But Independence tightened up on defense, with center Garrett Kastelic cutting down the passing lanes on entry feeds to Haynesworth, who got the Cougars’ only second-quarter points off a catch-and-score off the left block early in the period.

“(Stopping post feeds) has been a focus all week, just trying to make sure that we defend the post,” Jones said. “Last time, they did a really good job of making their post entries, and we did  terrible job of keeping their guards out of the lane.

“I felt tonight, we did a very good job of that. Very proud of the boys, and we only gave them one shot. That’s been something we struggled with all year, giving up offensive rebounds. Tonight, they got one shot and for the most part, they were tough shots.”

Shutting down Centennial’s transition game was also key.

“Again, another focus,” Jones said. “They can get out and run, and they’ve got very fast guards. They’re going to look to get out in transition. I think it shocked their system, and then, they were like, ‘Alright, we’ve really got to make sure we get back.’”

James, meanwhile, helped Independence heat up on offense, helping cut the lead to 20-19 at half. He started the second quarter with a jumper from the left side, then, a 3 from the left corner pulled Independence to within three.

Haynesworth, the son of former Titans’ and University of Tennessee defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, led all scorers with 10 at half.

St. Charles had a pair of first-half 3-pointers to pace Independence with six points.