Steward, Crisp, Saunders and Williams sounds like a law firm.
It wasn't Saturday. Fleming County seniors Troy Steward, Austin Crisp and Brady Saunders, along with junior Wilder Williams, were nevertheless judge, jury and executioner against visiting Ashland. They combined for 72 points in the defending 16th Region champion Panthers’ 82-67 win in The Den.
The final verdict: Steward, 26 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals; Crisp, 19 points, nine assists, four steals; Saunders, 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists, a block and two steals; and Williams, 13 points and four rebounds.
The Panthers won their fifth straight game and the 11th of the last 12. Steward said being a little more aggressive offensively is a major reason.
“We're attacking the basket a lot more and not settling for a jump shot,” he said.
Fleming County coach Mark Starns saw several things he liked: adapting to Ashland’s multiple defenses; a defense that forced 17 turnovers; converting the turnovers into 27 points.
Though Steward, Crisp, Saunders and Williams combined for 87.8 percent of Fleming County's scoring, senior guard Darion Burns was effective — he scored six points to go with seven assists and two steals.
Saturday was also Burns’ second game of the season (he tore his ACL in his right knee last June), and he says he’s 85-90 percent full strength. “(The knee's) a little sore from (Friday) night,” Burns said. “It'll be fine.”
Ashland had a lot of which to be proud. The Tomcats: out-rebounded the Panthers, 41-33 and had 10 second-chance points to Fleming County's six; Steven Friley scored 20 points to go with 11 rebounds, six assists and a steal; Damantie Thornton had 16 points and four assists; Nick Miller added 12 points and 10 rebounds; and Ross Thompson had 10 points and nine assists.
Two statistics, however, were the difference. Fleming County converted 27 points off turnovers to Ashland's 12 and made eight 3-pointers to the Tomcats' one.
Ashland's first quarter was, well, inauspicious. The Panthers rolled to a 23-7 lead after seven minutes, which Tomcat coach Buddy Biggs said was the difference in the game.
The Tomcats did have some defensive moments: Friley blocked a Williams shot, and Miller did the same to McKee. Problem was, not a point until Friley's bucket with 4:33 left.
Burns was the first Panther off the bench. He scored just three points in the first half, but one of his assists made one think he was most of the way back. With a little less than four minutes to go in the first quarter, he fired a cross-court pass to Crisp on the left wing, which Crisp turned into a 3-pointer.
Starns said Burns (who played a little more than 19 minutes Saturday) needs to improve his cardiovascular fitness (doctors rate him 88 percent back), and a lineup rotation has to be determined.
“How about that?” Starns said. “The most valuable player in the 16th Region last year, what a luxury to bring him off the bench, first man off the bench.”
Steward scored 11 points in the first quarter. He had just four in the second.
Containing Steward — a least a little — was also a portent of some Ashland offensive revival.
The Tomcats’ 14-4 run was a balanced attack: Friley’s 6-foot runner, four points from Miller (including an 8-footer that faked Burns into the air), Damantie Thornton’s layup off a fast break, Tyler Stewart’s layup, Friley’s banker, a Christian Villers bucket.
Ashland (16-6) closed to within 27-25 with a little more than three minutes before intermission.
“I thought our kids did a great job fighting back,” Biggs said. “They showed tremendous grit (and) effort.”
Fleming County (17-6) nicely recovered. Burns knocked down a three from the top of the key on Saunders' assist, Crisp served up Steward for a three from the same spot, and Burns' look-left-pass-right became a Saunders bucket with seven ticks before halftime.
The Panther defense was pretty good, too, and not just because it held Ashland to 45.9 percent shooting. The Tomcats scored just two points in nearly four minutes of the third, while Fleming County's 12-2 run put the game effectively out of reach.
Panthers defeat Ashland, remain perfect in region
Steward, Crisp, Saunders and Williams sounds like a law firm.
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Panthers pound Ashland for repeat trip to Rupp (with video)
The Fleming County Panthers waited nearly an hour to ascend the ladders set up under the goals at Ellis T. Johnson Arena on Tuesday night.
To the victor belongs the spoils, which traditionally includes the nets after winning a tournament title. But Fleming County milled around on Morehead State’s floor taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere after handling Ashland 82-59 in the 16th Region Tournament final.
Snipping the twine was almost an afterthought. In fact, except for a minute or so of celebration with their student section immediately following the final buzzer, the Panthers didn’t really even seem all that excited.
They expected to be here, and they were all business after earning back-to-back region titles and trips to Rupp Arena.
AARON SNYDER: Truth or Dare unkind to ’Cats
Ashland was left feeling like the shy kid after an intense game of Truth or Dare.
Truth: Fleming County outrebounded Ashland, 39-24, after Ashland outdueled Greenup County by 10 the night before.
'Relaxed' Steward earns MVP award
Both Fleming County coach Mark Starns and stellar senior Troy Steward attributed his significant strides this season to aggressiveness.
Playing a part, too, in Steward earning the 16th Region Tournament Most Valuable Player award was the lack of nerves, which were nearly overwhelming at times a year ago.
Central's 15th Region reign continues
Once was good.
Twice was nice.
Three was sweet for the Johnson Central Eagles.
Senior Slade McPeek scored 22 points and earned most valuable player honors Tuesday night as Johnson Central rolled past Shelby Valley, 81-56, for its third straight 15th Region championship at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
- Fleming goes for two: Panthers beat Ashland for 16th Region repeat Fleming County pulled away early and never looked back as the Panthers pounced on Ashland, winning 82-59 in the 16th Region championship game on Tuesday in Morehead. Fleming County will face Scott County in the Sweet Sixteen next Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
VIDEO: 16th Region semifinals highlights
Fleming County defeated Lewis County, 66-58, and Ashland beat Greenup County, 81-61, on Monday night at Morehead State University to set up tonight's championship matchup. Tipoff is set for 7.
Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game
Tyler Stewart is known for his unrelenting hustle as one of Ashland’s glue guys.
When the senior guard can pitch in some offense too, as he did Monday in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, that’s just one more problem for Tomcats opponents.
Stewart scored 20 points, senior Steven Friley posted a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Ashland outscored Greenup County 21-9 in the third quarter to break open what was a seven-point game at halftime and cruise past the Musketeers, 81-61.
Fleming battles back to 16th Region final
A healthy Wilder Williams this season has given Fleming County a whole new dimension.
Prior to his sophomore year, Williams sustained a football injury that resulted in three ankle surgeries and limited him to bench duty last season while the Panthers made their run to the 16th Region championship.
A physical 6-foot-3 player, Williams is making his presence felt around the basket as Fleming County looks to return to the Sweet Sixteen.
AARON SNYDER: Will the next hero be unmasked?
Who will the bat signal shine for tonight?
Or, should I say, the Cat signal?
In the third installment of a trilogy that might rival the Batman three-pack of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Fleming County and Ashland will battle in a matchup that has produced a classic clash in each of the last two 16th Region Tournaments.
If the first two collectively served as a gradual progressions to tonight’s scene, the climax could be off the charts.
Corey Gregg was Ashland’s superhero in 2012, when the senior confidently fired a perfect 3-point shot from the right corner. The triple thrust the Tomcats and Panthers into overtime, from which Ashland emerged 79-73 in a first-round game.
Central wins, Lawrence falls in 15th
The biggest concern for Lawrence County coach Josh Cook was staying out of foul trouble.
His team stayed in it all night, and it cost them a spot in the 15th Region title game.
Shelby Valley senior Tyler Carr led four players in double figures with 19 points as the Wildcats knocked off Lawrence County, 72-60, in the semifinals of the 15th Region Tournament at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
“This one hurts,” said Cook. “We’ll learn from this, and I have no doubt that our kids will get back here and finish the job.”
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- Panthers pound Ashland for repeat trip to Rupp (with video)