By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The Indians have struggled at the free throw line at times this season.
And their inability to knock down shots at the stripe late in games has come back to haunt them on several occasions.
But, they made sure that didn’t happen Thursday in the opening round of the 11th Region Tournament.
Madison Central hit 16 of its final 18 free throw attempts, including 11 straight, and held off Franklin County, 75-72, at the Frankfort Convention Center. DeMarcus George had another double-double (19 points and 13 rebounds) and Sam Jones had 20 points and seven rebounds as the Indians moved into the regional semifinals for the fourth-straight season.
The Indians will take on Scott County at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Frankfort.
“When you look at the fourth quarter when the game is on the line, you’ve got to step up there and hit them,” Central coach Allen Feldhaus said of free throws. “We’ve worked on it a lot more than we’ve ever worked on free throws with any team I’ve ever had and it’s starting to pay off.”
For most of the season, Central was shooting less than 60 percent as a team from the line.
In the first half against the Flyers, the Indians hit 9-of-10 at the line and were able to take a 34-29 lead into halftime.
They were just 5-of-11 from the line in the third quarter and missed their first three attempts at the start of the fourth quarter.
“We knew we had to hit them,” George said. “It was a close game. A lot of the games we lost this season were because of free throws. They are a good team. If we would have missed those free throws they would have been able to tie it up or take the lead.”
Franklin County got a pair of three-pointers from Rylan Rowe and took a 55-52 lead with 5:52 left.
George led the Indians back, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter. The senior was seven-of-10 at the line in the final period.
Sophomore point guard Cameron Thomas battled foul trouble most of the game and fouled out with 1:44 left and the Indians on top 68-63. Without Thomas, who had 12 points and nine rebounds, the Indians held on, getting a big putback by George and then hitting five-of-six free throws in the final minute.
“We didn’t give up,” Thomas said. “We battled through all the tough calls. Even though I went out, my teammates kept playing.”
Central, the state’s top rebounding team, controlled the glass, out-rebounding Franklin County, 44-37. The Indians had 21 second-chance points off 19 offensive rebounds and had 40 points in the paint.
“DeMarcus had a great game,” Feldhaus said. “Sam went to war. They both had a great game.”
Rowe had 30 points to lead the Flyers. He was 11-of-24 from the field and 3-of-9 from three-point range. Lorenzo McCaskell added 13 points and Chris Roberts had 10 points for Franklin County.
“Those guards are hard to handle,” Feldhaus said. “Rowe, we couldn’t keep him in front of us. He hit some good shots not because our defense was bad, he just hit some good shots.”
Kirk Humphrey hit three three-pointers in the first half and finished with nine points. Isaiah Johnson had seven points, Coty Alexander had six points and John Williams added two points.Central was 21-of-32 from the line in the game and is now shooting 61.8 percent from the line for the season (533-of-863).
Former Madison Central standout — and last year’s Mr. Basketball — Dominique Hawkins was in Frankfort Thursday to watch the game.
His presence certainly made an impact on the Indians.
“It meant a lot,” Thomas said. “It shows that he really cares. Some players never come back.”