For The Independent
When Ashland thumped Lewis County in the first game of the season, 92-68, Lions coach Joe Hampton likened the whole game to one 32-minute-long run for the Tomcats.
On Friday, Lewis County was able to avoid the full-on onslaught, but Ashland was still able to break through with several smaller spurts to sneak past the Lions 65-60 in the opening round of the 59th annual Ashland Invitational Tournament at James A. Anderson Gymnasium.
The Tomcats advanced to the winners’ bracket where they will take on Grant County tonight at 8:30. The Braves defeated Ironton 64-45 in the final contest of the day.
Lewis County will play the Fighting Tigers in the consolation bracket at 4 p.m.
“In the first game, they just took it to us and really hit us in the mouth and knocked us on our heels,” Hampton said. “Tonight, we never gave up the huge run, but we gave up some mini-runs.”
The Tomcats (6-2) closed out the game one of those smaller runs, using a 7-1 flash in under 1:30 to seal the victory.
The third quarter also ended with a flourish for the Tomcats, thanks to Christian Villers. The sophomore closed the quarter with eight straight points for his team. He also added the opening bucket of the final frame, with all 10 of his points coming in a span of 3:30.
“(Villers) hit two huge threes and then a two, which I thought was a three. It was close, I think his toe must have been on the line,” Ashland coach Buddy Biggs said. “He played a big third quarter for us.”
When it wasn’t Villers’ outside shooting sparking a run, it was usually a Nick Miller basket on an out-of-bounds play. The junior scored at least four baskets directly off of inbounds plays.
“Nick is so big and strong, it is a key for us to get him the ball on out of bounds plays,” Biggs said. “He can shoot it outside, but on those plays, we like to get him on the block to block action.”
Lewis County (4-6) had no answer for Miller when he got the ball deep. He finished with a team-high 17 points.
The Lions had some impressive stretches of their own, especially in the second half. In the middle of the fourth quarter, Jake Parker connected on three straight 3-pointers to draw Lewis County within two points. Parker finished with 12 points on four 3-pointers.
While the result was the same as the first game, Hampton is much more optimistic following this loss.
“We have played some good halves this year, but we have struggled to play 32 minutes,” he said. “Tonight, I thought we really competed for the whole 32 minutes.
Brett Ruckel of Lewis County led all scorers with 23 points, but needed 19 shots. Dalton Mason also added 14 points.
Steven Friley, who had a monster game against the Lions the first time around, had another impressive performance tallying a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
LEWIS CO. 8 16 15 21 — 60
ASHLAND 14 15 19 17 — 65
Lewis County (60) - Walker 2, Ruckel 23, Parker 12, Mason 14, Weddington 9, Holder, Duncan, G. Kiebler, Davis. 3-pt FGs: 9 (Rucket 3, Parker 4, Mason 2). FT: 11-16. PF: 19. Fouled out: Weddington. Turnovers: 8
Ashland (65) - Thompson 2, Stewart 11, Friley 16, Thornton 7, Miller 17, Villers 10, Wesley 2, Baker. 3-pt FGs: 4 (Thornton, Miller, Villers 2). FT: 19-29. PF: 17. Fouled out: none. Turnovers: 14.
Grant Co. 64
Grant County coach Brandon Grammer knows his team struggles to play with energy at the beginning of games.
A three-hour bus ride certainly didn’t help matters, but after a half to warm up and a stern lesson from their coach, the Braves finally picked up the intensity and rolled past Ironton to advance on in the winners bracket.
Grammer removed his entire starting lineup for the better part of the second quarter in order to try and send a message that a lack of effort will not be tolerated.
“I took them out and the second five played pretty well in the second quarter,” Grammer said. “It made the first five want to get back out there and prove they can do it as well.”
The Braves’ (4-5) newfound energy in the second half helped force the Tigers into 14 turnovers after the intermission.
Jordan Saylor was very active at the top of the zone in the third quarter, getting some deflections and steals which led to easy baskets.
“Jordan did a really good job at the top of the zone forcing turnovers,” he said. “He got a couple that led to some strong takes to the basket where he got fouled, one being the dunk he also got. That really gets us going.”
Saylor finished with 16 points.
Grant County’s Seth Adkins led Grant County with 19 points on the night.
Tristan Cox was the only player for Ironton to reach double figures scoring 19 points. Marques Davis added six points, inlcuding an impressive half court heave at the end of the first half.
GRANT CO. 10 15 19 20 — 64
IRONTON 8 13 17 7 — 45
Grant County (64) - Johnson , Adkins 19, Hicks 6, Jor. Saylor 15, Schneider 4, Rose 2, Kellam 4, Burk 2, Bennett 4, Joe. Saylor 4, O’Nan, Albers, Hammonds. 3-pt FGs: 4 (Johnson, Hicks 2, Saylor). FT: 24-28. PF: 6. Fouled out: none. Turnovers: 19.
Ironton (45) - Garrad 8, Crockrel 3, Cox 19, Young 6, Campbell 2, Klaiber 1, Davis 6, Sherman, Scott. 3-pt FGs: 5 (Crockrel, Cox 3, Davis). FT: 6-10. PF: 20. Fouled out: Sherman, Campbell. Turnovers: 22.