By RAY SCHAEFER
For The Independent
Mark Starns admitted it Friday: the Fleming County boys basketball coach called himself a perfectionist.
The Panthers did not play a flawless game against visiting Boyd County, but it was close enough. Troy Steward's 21 points and Darion Burns' 15 led Fleming County to a 73-66 win.
Both Starns and Boyd County coach Randy Anderson said the second and third quarters — where Fleming County outscored the Lions, 37-20, determined the outcome.
“They were playing hard,” Starns said. “We're just trying to get our guys to play at a consistent level. Boyd County played scrappy to the very end.”
“They got aggressive, they got themselves to the rim way too much,” Anderson said. “When that happened, for us to stay in the game and beat that bunch there, we have got to close gaps, we can't let them get to the rim, and we've got to keep certain people off the free-throw line.”
Fleming County's “certain people” were Brady Saunders (8 of 12) and Steward (7 of 8). The Panthers as a team? Not so much: just 58.8 percent from the line (20 of 34).
The Panthers countered the frigid free throw shooting. All five starters: Steward, Burns, Saunders, Austin Crisp (11 points) and Bryson McKee (12) scored in double figures.
Fleming County won its fourth straight game and ninth of its last 11. Starns said the Panthers were a little spoiled after an 80-61 win Jan. 4 at Rowan County.
“I guess I'm too much a perfectionist,” he said. “... We just want those boys to be the best they can be.”
In Friday's first quarter, Boyd County neither feared Fleming County's full-court press nor hesitated to drive down the lane — the Lions opened with a 9-4 run midway through the first stanza on two layups from senior Brandon Taylor and one each from Austin Hunt and Jesse Wallace. Taylor's first was a reverse past Steward a little more than two minutes in, and he converted one of Hunt's three first-half assists about 30 seconds later.
Taylor finished the half with nine points (he led the Lions with 16), and Hunt added seven of his 13 points.
After Fleming County assistant coach Josh Graham screamed “They want it more than you!” as Boyd County took a 23-18 lead after one quarter, the Panthers responded.
There was defense: It took the Lions (10-8) more than four minutes to score their 26th point on Tristian Burgess' 3-pointer. Thing was, Fleming County didn't immediately take advantage — the Panthers missed five of eight free throws and didn't tie the score at 26-all until Steward's two with 3:31 before intermission.
Boyd County made 24 of 57 field goals last night. Anderson lamented some second-quarter misery in particular.
“We missed way too many bunnies,” Anderson said. “I mean, we get the thing to the rim, and we miss seven or eight that I can think of off the top of my head. That's the ball game.”
Besides Fleming County defense, there was Steward from near and far. His baseline drive and 3-pointer from the top of the circle put the Panthers (13-2) up, 31-29, with 2:29 to go.
Steward remembered Graham's words.
“We needed to pick it up on offense and defense, get 50-50 balls and box out and get rebounds,” Steward said. “... Stay down on defense, really pressure the ball.”
And finally, there was Burns' six points in a 57-second outburst late in the third quarter. He started with six-foot runner in the lane off a spin dribble and one step, added an eight-foot bank jumper and finished with a driving layup.
So which was Burns' favorite shot? The eight-footer.
“I usually don't shoot a lot of pull-up (jumpers),” Burns said.
The result: Fleming County, 55-43, after 24 minutes. It was a lead the Panthers expanded to 65-51 less than three minutes later when McKee's layup converted a Crisp assist.
Boyd County closed to 69-62 on Hunt's two free throws with 57.9 seconds to go. His teammate, Brandon Lowe, crafted a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.