These aren’t last year’s Russell Red Devils, but Ashland still emphasized ending its losing streak in the series on Friday night.
The Tomcats did so emphatically with an 80-52 decision at Anderson Gym.
“We discussed it all day, in our scouting meeting, in our film session,” Ashland coach Buddy Biggs said of the Red Devils’ three straight wins in the series. “We had lost three straight to these guys, and to us that’s unacceptable because it’s such a big rivalry game.
“It’s not a rivalry game if they’re always beating you. We wanted to get off the schneid, so to speak, and get these guys again.”
The Tomcats did that by getting five scorers in double figures, led by 20 points from Christian Villers off the bench and a double-double from Steven Friley with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Nick Miller scored 14 points, Ross Thompson chipped in 13 points — 10 in the first half — and Damantie Thornton netted 12 for Ashland (9-3).
Zach Tackett paced the Red Devils (4-11) with 21 points. Caleb Martin added 12 points off the bench and Ethan Raby had 11.
Ashland opened up a 30-18 lead before Russell made its first run, a 10-3 spurt that got its deficit down to 33-28 on a Pavin Downs 3-pointer with 2:10 to go in the first half.
But Villers hit a trey 10 seconds later, Miller scored in transition, and the Tomcats led 41-28 at intermission and were up double digits the rest of the way.
“A lot of these guys haven’t been in this atmosphere,” Russell coach Merle Kidwell said of his rotation. “We’ve played 15 games now, so we can’t use (lack of) experience as an excuse, but it is what it is. We’re playing with guys that don’t have a lot of varsity experience, and you play an Ashland team that’s arguably one of the best teams in the region, they’ll have a say in who goes to Rupp, and they’re always attacking.”
Ashland shot 50 percent from the field while holding the Red Devils to 37.5 percent. More impressively, the Tomcats hit 24 of their 29 charity tosses — good for 82.3 percent — led by a 9-for-10 night from Villers.
“He’s shooting up around 82 percent for the year (on free throws), so we’re real pleased with that,” Biggs said of Villers. “When he gives us that kind of boost off the bench, we’re hard to beat.”
Biggs also noticed that during the quarters when Russell made its move offensively -- the second and fourth -- the Tomcats were able to exceed the visitors’ efforts.
“The first and third quarters were more defensive quarters,” Biggs said. “They scored a lot of points on us in the second and fourth, but we were still able to score a little more than them, and I thought that was a huge key.”
Additionally, Biggs credited Thompson with playing “really two of the best two games he’s ever played for us these last two” and Friley for “doing an unbelieveable job for us rebounding the basketball,”
“Damantie played well, Robert (Wesley) and Josh (Bradley) played well off the bench, Nick Miller had another solid game, Tyler Stewart (played well),” Biggs said. “Just a very good all-around win.”
Russell saw progress as well.
“I told the guys after the game, ‘I’m not pumping sunshine to you after a 28-point loss,’” Kidwell said. “But I thought we did some things better. We really worked hard in practice on being strong against traps, obviously at times we didn’t do that, but I thought we improved in that area. I thought our effort level was great.”
Russell, though it used its bench early and often with 11 players getting floor time in the first quarter, was shorthanded with Cody Bennett (appendix removed) and Tanner Miller (dislocated knee) both expected to miss three to four weeks, Kidwell said.
Some better news for the Red Devils: Johnny McGuire is “hopefully gonna start practice Monday,” Kidwell said. He’s the lone returning starter from last year’s 63rd District titlists but has missed the whole season to date.
The game was scheduled to be played at Russell, but was moved to Ashland Friday afternoon after Russell’s water was shut off. Biggs thanked administrators from both schools for a smooth transition.
Both teams play matinees today. Ashland hosts George Rogers Clark, and Russell faces Washington Court House (Ohio) at Chesapeake.
ZACK KLEMME can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.