Hollingsworth shines, Dunbar survives

March 16, 2016 FieldsColumn

Taveion Hollingsworth twists through the Mercer County defense. (Photo by Tim Webb)

Taveion Hollingsworth twists through the Mercer County defense. (Photo by Tim Webb)

Cool, calm and clutch.

That’s Taveion Hollingsworth, a 6-foot-2 junior who plays basketball for Paul Laurence Dunbar with such remarkable ease and efficiency that it makes you wonder if he’s immune to pressure.

Hollingsworth was at this best in the biggest game of his life Wednesday night. He led Dunbar to a heart-racing (although his own heart apparently never races) 58-55 victory over Mercer County in a down-to-the-wire first-round thriller in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen.

Hollingsworth scored 23 of his 32 points in the second half, draining clutch shot after clutch shot to keep the Bulldogs in the chase for their first state tournament victory since 1994.

Wasn’t Hollingsworth at least a little jittery on the Rupp Arena stage?

“It was different because the place is bigger and there were more people (11,866) here,” he said softly. “But I tried not to pay attention to the crowd and just played my game.”

Hollingsworth has plenty of game.

He had 17 of Dunbar’s first 20 points of the second half when Mercer County held the upper hand. It was Hollingsworth’s step-back 15-footer with 3:50 left that put the Bulldogs ahead to stay at 50-48.

He hit a bloodless 10-footer from the lane with 1:36 to go that gave Dunbar a 54-51 edge. And  his two free throws with :02.3 left all but iced the victory.

Mercer County Coach Josh Cook said the Titans “tried everything possible” to slow Hollingsworth, but nothing worked. “He’s a very nice player.”

Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk said pressure doesn’t bother Hollingsworth. “He’s a closer, he’s a finisher, he’s a clutch player. 

“Even when he’s had bad games this year, we still go to him at the end. That’s worked out well for us all year long, so we’ll stay with it.”

Dunbar needed Hollingsworth’s A+ game because the Bulldogs’ next two top scorers on the season — Darius Williams and Jordan Lewis — had only 5 points between them.

The Bulldogs got a big lift from Jordan Brown, who came off the bench to get 8 points, including a huge three-pointer midway through the fourth quarter, and Justin Kelley, who had 9 points and 6 rebounds and played some snarly defense.

Mercer County proved that its 33-1 regular-season record was legit. The Titans had their chances in the closing seconds to pull out the victory, but turnovers cost them.

Senior guard Will Hager came up big with 22 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Sophomore Trevon Faulkner had 16 points.

“It hurts right now,” Hager said. “This is not where we wanted it to end. But in a couple days we’ll realize we gave it everything we had and wel’ll look back and be proud of that.”

Taylor back and better in Rupp

The last time we saw Terry Taylor, he was a long-limbed 6-foot-4 sophomore helping Bowling Green reach the Sweet Sixteen finals. He totaled 57 points and 27 rebounds in four games, including 16 and 9 in the title game loss to Owensboro.

Flash ahead to Wednesday night and Taylor was back in Rupp Arena, a long-limbed 6-6 junior, leading Bowling Green to a first-round 75-59 victory over Elliott County.

“He’s a nightmare for us as athletically and as athletic as their guards are,” Elliott County Coach Greg Adkins said. “It’s hard to dial in on him because of their other players. I thought he was fantastic.”

Bowling Green was missing 6-6 junior Kyran Jones, who had to sit out the region finals and first round of the state after being ejected from the region semifinals.

Without Jones, the Purples needed a big game from Taylor.

“We knew Terry had to be special offensively and defensively for us,” Coach D.G. Sherrill said. “He’s steady Eddie. He has great instincts for the ball.”