Like the winds of change, the rhythm of a game can take a turn from your typical run-and-gun affair, to a good old grinded-out grudge match.
Instead of sitting in the pews of church Sunday afternoon, fans were instead treated to an exciting dose of high school hoops when Ashland (5-2) nabbed an impressive 67-63 victory over Cincinnati Taft (4-3) at the 6th Annual Ironton Classic.
No field goal was needed for Blazer in the final 4:30 of the game, pulling off the win by standing tall at the free throw line, converting on eight attempts to pull out the victory.
In total, the Tomcats were a collective 25-30 from the charity stripe, while the Senators of Taft, converted only 12-22.
Ashland coach Buddy Biggs was quick to point out just how essential his team’s solid free throw shooting was in those final minutes.
“We have not shot that high of a percentage from the free throw line all year,” Biggs said. “There was no question that was our difference maker today. I’m so proud of our kids, and for them to step up and make those big ones down the stretch against an opponent like Taft, that was just huge for us.”
Throughout the first half, both teams went back and forth, as Ashland junior Nick Miller scored his team’s first eight points. With the Tomcats ahead 8-3, Taft guard Kenny Kaufman responded, converting on three attempts from long range, tallying nine first quarter points.
The second quarter played out much like the first, with the Tomcats holding on to a narrow lead of 44-40, holding up a frantic scoring pace.
Miller picked up 15 points in the first 16 minutes for Blazer, joined by Ross Thompson in double figures with 10.
Following the break, the pace and momentum of the game swayed in Taft’s favor when Miller was forced to sit the entire third period after committing his fourth foul within the first 10 seconds. While Ashland was able to break a tenacious Senators’ press in the first two quarters, six turnovers in the third allowed Taft to control the tempo.
Led by Robert Smith III’s seven points in the period, the Cincinnati school found themselves suddenly on top, leading Ashland, 57-53.
Biggs said although the third quarter saw his team commit some unnecessary turnovers, he was pleased with their position headed into the final period.
“When Miller had to sit down, we had to play a lineup that we’d never used before. Despite the turnovers, we were able to maintain, and we stayed within striking distance headed into the fourth.” Said Biggs.
An early layup by Miller in the fourth was the only field goal Ashland would need for the period in order to pick up the win. The Tomcats presented poise at the free throw line, connecting on a perfect 12-of-12 in the final eight minutes.
Despite being sidelined for an entire quarter, Miller was still able to lead the way for Ashland Blazer with 19 points.
“This win really shows us what we can do,” Miller said. “We knew we had a little bit of a rough stretch with the turnovers, but we just listened to Coach Biggs when he told us that we had been breaking the press all game, and that we just needed to maintain. This shows us that the sky is the limit for this season, and will hopefully go a long way in getting us ready for regional play.”
Ashland Sophomore guard Damantie Thornton, who put his team ahead for good with his four free throws in the fourth, agreed with his teammate’s comments.
“That is probably one of the toughest teams we will play this year, and to get a win over a top-quality opponent like that, that’s big for us.” Thornton said.
Ashland Blazer saw four of its players nab double-figure points, with Thompson tallying 15, Tyler Stewart grabbing 14 and Steven Friley adding 11, to go along with Miller’s 19.
Taft’s Smith III led all scorers with 23, with Kaufman joining him in double figures with 16.
ASHLAND 23 21 9 14 — 67
CIN. TAFT 19 21 17 6 — 63
Ashland (67) — Miller 19, Thompson 15, Stewart 14, Friley 11, Thornton 6, Baker 2. 3-PT Fgs: 2 (Miller 1, Thompson 1). FT: 25-30. Turnovers: 16.
Cin. Taft (63) — R. Smith III 22, Kaufman 16, Harris 9, Washington 5, D. Smith 5, Oden 2, Hill 2, Doe 2. 3-PT Fgs: 7 (Kaufman 4, Washington 1, Doe 1, Smith III 1). FT: 12-22. Turnovers: 8.