For The Independent
Friday was not the Homecoming Lewis County boys basketball coach Joe Hampton had hoped.
After playing its last nine games on the road and returning to the court after a 10-day layoff, Lewis County felt a little like a soldier returning from an overseas tour of duty. Appropriately enough, it was Veterans' Appreciation Day.
But, the first home game since Dec. 7 ended just like that contest — a four-point defeat — this time at the hands of Elliott County, 65-61.
“We were part of (a Veterans' Appreciation Day) last year at Greenup County,” Hampton said. “ Our local National Guard recruiter told me about the different uniforms they were getting out to the different teams to use if they wanted to do a special occasion, so we did that and we tied it into a veterans' appreciation night. We let (veterans) in at no cost and tried to give them a small token of our appreciation by giving each one a flag.”
From Hampton’s perspective, there was only one problem.
“I thought the uniforms may be hard to see because they were camouflage and we’d be tough to guard, but it kind of was the other way around. Elliott couldn’t see us on defense and just went right by us and made for easy open lanes to the rim tonight,” he joked.
Lewis County (5-8) jumped out to an early 18-13 first-quarter advantage. However, in a game that featured nine first-half lead changes, Elliott County battled back to tie the score at 25-25 with 2:39 to play in the second period.
Yet, the resilient homestanding Lions finished the half on a 7-2 run to take a 32-27 edge into the locker room.
That momentum did not carry over.
Lewis County scored just 13 points in the third quarter as Elliott County surged ahead 47-45 by the end of the period.
“It seemed like we really struggled to hit a field goal in the third quarter,” Hampton said. “I know Jake (Parker) hit a three and Brett (Ruckel) had an and-1, but I can’t think of too many field goals we had in the third quarter. We gave up 20 points and that was a big turning point for us – our inability to top Elliott.”
The visiting Lions then started the first 3:45 of the final quarter by outscoring Lewis County, 8-2.
Elliott County coach Greg Adkins credited his team’s patience.
“The big key for us coming into the game was we talked about being aggressive. We talked about being aggressive offensively and, for us, that doesn’t mean taking the first drive off the first pass. We want to space them out where we could open up some gaps and then we wanted to attack,” he said. “We’ve got some good shooters, but there’s nights where we settle on the ‘three’ too much and we made it a focus on trying to get to the rim tonight."
The strategy worked, at least until sophomore forward Collin Howell fouled out of the game with 3:54 to play, which allowed Lewis County to generate some offensive momentum, especially in the paint.
Lewis County drew back within one at 62-61 with 47 seconds to play, but Landon Griffith sank one of two free throws and Chase Porter came up with a critical steal with just more than 10 seconds remaining to seal the victory for Elliott County (10-5).
“I thought the Griffith twins (Reece and Landon) did a great job of being smart,” Hampton said. “They are very heady out there. They don’t do anything dominating, but they keep the ball in their hands and they are so rock solid with it and they wait around for you to make a mistake and once you do, they make you pay, and we made a lot of mistakes tonight defensively and they made us look silly at times.”
The victory was Elliott County’s 10th in the last 11 meetings between the two clubs.
ELLIOTT 13 14 20 18 — 65
LEWIS 18 14 13 16 — 61
Elliott County (65): Nickell 9, Porter 2, Sloas 0, I. Griffith 0, L. Griffith 7, R. Griffith 13, Whitney 0, Holbrook 21, Howell 13. 3-Pt. FG: 3 (Nickell, R. Griffith, Holbrook). FT: 12-23. Fouls: 18.
Lewis County (61): Davis 0, Duncan 0, Walker 7, Adams 7, Ruckel 20, Mason 3, Parker 12, Holder 3, Weddington 7, McCann 2, Kiebler 0. 3-Pt. FG: 7 (Parker 2, Adams, Ruckel, Mason, Holder, Weddington). FT: 18-21. Fouls: 18.