Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

February 9, 2014

Fleming still firing away

Panthers defeat Ashland, remain perfect in region

FLEMINGSBURG — 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.

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