It’s been a while since the Ashland-Boyd County boys basketball series produced a down-to-the-wire classic.
On a bitterly cold Friday night outside the Boyd County Middle School gym, the rivals put on a barnburner.
Nick Miller, who played the last 10:18 with four fouls, sank four free throws in the final 11 seconds to lift Ashland to an 81-77 victory.
“It was crazy. It was fun,” Miller said of the tight struggle between high-energy teams.
Boyd County used a 7-0 run to take a 75-72 lead on Grayson Griffith’s third 3-pointer with just under two minutes remaining, but Ashland didn’t blink.
Ross Thompson made a driving basket and Tyler Stewart hit a tough shot in traffic to send Ashland back in front.
After Tristan Burgess gave Boyd County its final lead on a putback, Miller went to the foul line with 11 seconds left and made both to put his team up 78-77.
Asked what was going through his mind on the critical free throws, Miller smiled.
“Nothing really,” the junior forward said. “The best thing you can do in that situation is relax and shoot the ball. The more you think about it, the harder it will be to make them.”
Griffith then had a good look on a baseline jumper, but the ball spun around the rim and fell off.
“It was down,” Boyd County coach Randy Anderson said afterward. “I was already hollering to set our defense.”
Instead, Ashland’s Damantie Thornton soared high to snare the rebound. Boyd County was called for an intentional foul with 2.3 seconds left and Thornton connected on one of two free throws. After the Tomcats inbounded the ball, Miller was immediately fouled and swished two more free throws to seal Ashland’s 13th win over Boyd County in the last 14 meetings.
“It was a great game, great atmosphere, great crowd,” Ashland coach Buddy Biggs said. “This is what Ashland-Boyd County should be all about. It went down to the wire. We were fortunate to hold on.”
Miller finished with 19 points to lead five Tomcats in double figures. He scored 26 against the Lions back on Dec. 6 when Ashland won with room to spare, 81-59.
This time, Miller picked up his fourth foul with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter. A matter of a few seconds later, front-court teammate Steven Friley also was whistled for his fourth foul and joined Miller on the bench. Ashland led 52-46 at the time.
Both played returned for the start of the fourth quarter and Friley picked up his fifth foul with 4:53 to go, but not until amassing 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Thornton, a 6-2 sophomore, helped pick up the slack inside with an outstanding fourth quarter. He scored 10 of his 11 points in the final period, including eight free throws. Thornton also pulled down four rebounds during that span.
“It feels great,” Thornton said. “That’s a big win for us. It got really loud out there.”
Said Biggs: “Damantie really made a difference in the fourth quarter. He had some offensive rebounds, and when he was getting fouled he knocked down the free throws.”
Stewart also had a big finish for the Tomcats, delivering 15 of his 17 points in the second half. Stewart had four baskets in the third quarter to help fuel an 18-4 run after Ashland trailed 39-34 at halftime.
Boyd County came out smoking, connecting on eight 3-pointers in the first half to lead by as much as 11 points.
Senior guard Robert Wesley came off the bench to keep Ashland in the game by hitting three treys in the second quarter without a miss. He scored 11 points in the period.
“Yesterday and this morning in our shootaround, Robert was absolutely scorching it,” Biggs said. “His first shot tonight I think was an airball, and we kind of turned and looked at each other on the sideline. Then he showed what we knew he was capable of doing. He took advantage of the opportunity.”
Ashland improved to 13-4.
Griffith finished with 24 points to lead Boyd County (9-9). Post player Conner Gauze came off the bench to give the Lions a huge boost with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“He ate our lunch again,” Biggs said of the big junior, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the earlier meeting.
Burgess made five 3-pointers and totaled 17 points for the Lions (9-9).
“This is a different team since Ashland gave us a pretty good spanking at the start of the season,” Anderson said. “I’ve seen a lot of progress.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.