By SETH LAMAR
Gold Standard Sports Editor
Fort Knox’s Valentine’s Day matchup with Portland Christian marked one of the final times senior Rashaan Allen would take the court as an Eagle.
For the past four seasons, Allen has been a mainstay on Kip Rambo’s teams and taken the court as an Eagle numerous times. What had become second nature for Allen after years of experience would be entirely new for senior manager Zach Legg.
Legg typically handles the video duties for the Eagles, but for one night he was the one on film and in the starting lineup alongside Allen in the Knox green and gold.
Senior night set the stage for a rematch between the two teams, which last met Dec. 18 and resulted in a 75-63 Portland Christian Victory.
This time around, it would be Fort Knox pulling off the 89-82 victory.
The Knox boys began the game in an 8-0 hole, but a Michael Powell three-pointer finally put the Eagles on the board at the 6:23 mark in the opening quarter. Knox point guard Chris Jackson factored heavily into the Eagles’ early scoring as the junior dished assists on the first two baskets of the game.
As the Eagles clawed their way back into contention offensively, they also needed to slow down Portland Christian in its half court offense. Portland Christian’s Austin Blake showed his perimeter prowess early and often in the first quarter by nailing five three-pointers to pace his team.
With Blake leading the way for Portland Christian from the outside, it was Powell leading Knox from the inside. Defenders struggled to stay in front of Powell in the first quarter as he consistently shredded with drives to the basket. Powell finished the opening period with 10 of Knox’s 19 points, but the Eagles still trailed by six entering the second quarter.
Blake picked up right where he left off in the first quarter with his sixth three-pointer to boost the Portland Christian lead to a 28-19 advantage. While the visiting Eagles enjoyed their biggest lead, Knox battled back with an 11-3 run over the course of the next three minutes to pull within a point at 31-30. Moments later, Jackson took an inbounds pass in the corner to give Knox its first lead at 33-31 with 3:45 left in the half.
Jackson’s three-pointer proved to be the edge the Eagles need to take a 41-38 lead into the half.
Powell and Jackson led all Knox scorers in the first half with 12 points apiece.
The Eagles would be without Jackson for much of the third quarter as he picked up three fouls before halftime. In Jackson’s absence, the Knox boys scored with a balanced attack led by Michael Armstead with eight points in the quarter. Knox consistently held a four-point advantage over Portland Christian for much of the period, but once the visiting Eagles pulled within a basket at 52-50 Knox used a 10-0 to enter the final quarter of play leading 64-55.
Knox continued to keep Portland Christian at bay with another solid offensive effort by Jackson, who scored seven of his eventual 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Despite trailing since early in the second quarter, Portland Christian continued to whittle the Knox lead until it was within striking distance at 82-78 with little more than a minute remaining. A pair of free throws made by Allen seemingly held Portland Christian at bay, but Blake would hit his eighth three-pointer of the game and draw a foul to complete the four-point play. Blake’s three-pointer pulled his team within a basket at 82-79 with 54 seconds remaining. The Portland Christian senior finished a perfect 9-for-9 from beyond the arc and a game-high 28 points.
The lack of time remaining on the clock forced Portland Christian into fouling Knox, but the Eagles were 5-of-6 from the free throw line to put the game out of reach with an 89-79 lead in the waning moments of the game.
Knox’s Legg was able to put up a few shots early in the game, but would get another shot at the scoring column at the end of the game. Both Kip Rambo and Portland Christian head coach Joseph Meredith agreed before the game that no matter the outcome Legg would have an opportunity to score by game’s end. With the game out of reach at 87-79 Meredith drew a technical foul sending none other than Legg to the line for a pair of free throws. Legg’s trip to the line resulted in two points and an eruption of cheers
from Knox and Portland Christian fans alike.
Legg’s two points in the scoring column were accompanied by 19 points from Jackson, Powell’s 18 points, Armstead with 15 along with fellow senior Allen’s 13 points.
Fort Knox entered the 17th District Tournament riding high after winning five of its last six games to close out regular season play. Rambo’s team followed up its big win against Portland Christian with a 72-52 win at Whitefield Academy and a 70-57 victory over Washington County to prep for postseason play.
The Eagles entered the game with an air of optimism that their third meeting of the season against the Elizabethtown Panthers wouldn’t be their final game of the season.
Despite having a size advantage in the low post, the Panthers struggled to distance themselves from the Eagles in the early moments of the first quarter. Elizabethtown jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening two minutes of action, but Powell’s driving ability put the Eagles on the board at the 5:58 mark. One possession later, the Eagles took the lead at 4-3 after a pair of made free throws by Jackson.
After consecutive empty trips down the floor by both teams, the lead changed hands three times throughout the rest of the first quarter with Allen muscling up a pair of baskets against Zane Najdawi.
After Allen’s baskets the Eagles struggled to score from the floor and went more than three minutes without a score. Knox’s drought enabled Elizabethtown to build a five-point advantage before Zach Patterson swished a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Panthers an 18-10 lead heading into the second quarter.
Towards the end of the first quarter it became apparent the Eagles wouldn’t be able to escape an issue that has plagued them all season long—foul trouble. Knox’s Jackson picked up his second personal foul with 29.4 second remaining in the quarter. To make matters worse, Allen picked up his second and third fouls within the first three minutes of the second quarter.
“It hurts when they’ve got a couple of big guys and we’ve got to take our big guy out,” Rambo said. “To their credit, the guys who came in for Rashaan did a heck of a job.”
Rambo was forced to go deep into his bench as nine different Knox players took the floor in the first half. The Eagles were forced to go small against the Panthers, but Tarik James and Kelvin Pickens provided a spark off the bench as they combined for eight of Knox’s 12 points in the quarter.
As several of Knox’s key players sat the bench saddled with fouls, the Elizabethtown lead swelled to 35-22 by halftime.
“We played pretty good on defense for most of the game, but we just didn’t put the ball in the hole like we have been,” Rambo said. “I think we had three starters sitting the bench early in the second quarter and it’s only a 13 point game at half. That says something about the job the guys that came in did.”
Elizabethtown struggled to extend its lead early in the third quarter even without Knox’s Allen on the floor. Once Jackson picked up his third foul with just under six minutes left in the third quarter, Rambo was forced to put Allen back in the game.
Almost immediately, Allen scored on a drive to the basket, but picked up his fourth foul on the very next offensive set.
“We had to hold him out and I usually like to go two or three minutes in that situation and he went in and almost immediately picked up his fourth foul,” Rambo said. “That’s a tough coaching call, period.”
Allen provided six points in the third quarter with only one foul to give, but the Eagles’ scoring woes continued as the Panthers built a 24-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
As Knox’s foul trouble continued to mount, so did Elizabethtown’s lead. Armstead added a late flurry of scoring with eight points in the fourth quarter, but the damage had been done. Elizabethtown cruised to a 78-43 victory to advance and face John Hardin Tuesday night.
Over the course of the final 10 games of the season, Rambo said his team became the team he always thought they could be.
“We got better,
that’s it and we improved all year long,” he said.
As they had been all season long, the Eagles were led by Allen, who concluded his basketball career at Fort Knox with a 13-point, nine rebound performance against Elizabethtown. Allen was named to the 17th District All-Tournament Team for his efforts—effort and leadership that his coach said would be missed.
“We’ll miss him next year,” Rambo said. “He’s our only senior and he kept the guys together all year long. He kept them together and he kept them motivated. Someone will have to step up and it will be a tough spot to fill.”
The Eagles conclude the 2012-13 season with an 11-16 finish, almost doubling their win total from the 6-23 finish in 2011-12 campaign.