CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock coach Aaron Spaulding knew stopping Knightstown’s aggressive, balanced offensive attack would be no simple task, especially with the team’s leading scorer netting more than 20 points per game.
And despite outscoring the Panthers 28-19 in the third quarter after a 13-point first-half deficit, the Royals suffered a 70-64 loss Friday in Mid-Hoosier Conference action.
Eastern Hancock’s (1-4, 0-2 MHC) leading scorer, sophomore guard Addison True (17.8 ppg), was held to just eight points, but classmate A.J. Muegge picked up the offensive slack, finishing with a team-high 20 points after hitting seven shots in a row through the third and fourth quarters.
Royals 6-foot-4 senior Tom Barton had a productive night, as well, registering 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Knightstown (3-2, 1-1 MHC) guard Jackson Edwards, who entered Friday’s contest shooting 85 percent from the foul line and 50 percent from the field, neared his 23.8 ppg average with 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting.
“I thought in the first half we were playing tentative offensively,” Spaulding said, who is in his 17th season with the program. “I kind of got on them a little bit at halftime and they responded. We started making the extra pass and started moving the basketball.
“With Edwards, you’re not going to stop him. You’ve just got to limit him and try to turn him into a 3-point shooter.”
Trailing 34-21 at the break, the Panthers closed the first half on an 8-2 run. Muegge, who scored just two points in the opening half, caught fire and Eastern Hancock slowly chipped away at its rivals’ biggest lead.
The Royals shot 11 of 14 in the pivotal third quarter and entered the final stanza trailing 53-49.
But after a Ryan Speas 3-pointer with just under five minutes to play and a deep bomb from Barton seconds later, Eastern Hancock took its first lead since the first quarter, 59-58, and 4:10 left on the clock.
After trading baskets, True hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 62, but the Panthers would close the final three minutes of the game on a 8-2 run to seal the win.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t execute there well enough in the fourth quarter,” Spaulding said.
Freshman guard Dylan Hiner scored all of his 14 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter, to accompany Edwards. As a team, Knightstown shot 13 of 16 from the free throw line and hit nine 3-pointers.
Spaulding said Muegge has played well the past two games after a slow start adjusting to the varsity level.
“He (Muegge) was very good in the second half especially,” he said. “He played with a lot of energy.”
The Royals, who lead the overall series with the Panthers 22-19 (last 30 years), hit 13 shots from behind the arc, including five from Speas. He finished with 15 points.
Eastern Hancock looks to close ground on a .500 record at 7:30 p.m. today at Cambridge City Lincoln (3-3).