WEST LIBERTY —
Russell senior guard Kyle Skaggs thought he had a quiet night Tuesday.
He was quiet as a Manowar concert — 26 points in the Red Devils' 63-36 win over East Carter in the semifinals of the boys Eastern Kentucky Conference tournament at Morgan County High School.
Skaggs broke the school scoring record last week, and he now has 1,934 career points. Afterward, he was as calm as 10cc singing “I'm Not In Love” in the mid-1970s.
So, did Skaggs think his was a serene 26-point game?
“I guess you could call it that,” he said. “I mean, I've got to do what I can for us to get the win. I kind of got some unlucky calls in the beginning, but we can't do anything about that; we just want to win.”
Russell senior guard Googie Hayes knows he can get away with teasing Skaggs over his cover photo in The Independent's basketball preview. He also knows why the Red Devils are 4-0.
“He's our go-to guy,” Hayes said. “Whenever we need anything, we'll set up a play, run him off some screens, and he'll score.”
Russell coach Merle Kidwell didn't expect such a large victory margin. He said defense was the reason.
“I thought we really guarded them well,” Kidwell said. “They only had four field goals in the first half. Obviously they missed some open shots, but I think our defense had a lot to do with that.”
Skaggs contributed early — a fall-away 15-footer and a 3-pointer to go with Johnny McGuire's stick-back put Russell up, 7-2. There was one worry: Skaggs drew his second foul less than three minutes into the game (he picked up his third diving for a loose ball with 6.4 seconds left in the half).
East (2-1) took its only lead at 8-7 on Kyle Stewart's bucket with 3:53 left in the first quarter. For the next seven minutes and 31 seconds, it was Antarctica in January — not a point until Jordan Burchett knocked down a layup with 3:48 before halftime.
Not having Skaggs for much of the first half didn't matter a lot. Not when Hayes, Jacob Porter, Steven Estep and Lance Evans combined for 19 uncontested points and a 26-10 lead midway through the second quarter.
There was a myriad of ways Hayes, Porter, Estep and Evans contributed.
Hayes: four points, two assists and forcing a held ball when East's Connor Greene tried to drive for a second quarter layup. On the first assist, he threatened to drive to his right but stutter-stepped and hit Evans, who drained a 3-pointer.
Evans: seven points, including a stick-back and a layup on Hayes' second assist.
Estep: four points, including a stick-back of his own miss and jumper on an Evans-to-Porter-to Estep double pass.
“We just lost our heads, lost our edge,” East coach Brandon Baker said. “We never could recover. Russell took full advantage.”
Porter: six points, including a clean-up of Ramsey Mullins' miss and a layup.
When Skaggs came back late in the second quarter, he scored off a Hayes screen, a fast-break layup and a baseline drive when Hayes passed to him in stride.
The Red Devils meet Fleming County for the championship at approximately 8 p.m. Thursday. Kidwell said containing the Panthers' Darion Burns and Troy Steward, who each scored 28 points in Monday's double-overtime semifinal win over Rowan County, is a concern.
And Hayes? His postgame thoughts included Rupp Arena and the state tournament, but he was careful to not say anything that would appear in Flemingsburg locker rooms.
“Can't wait,” Hayes said.
East Carter 8 6 8 14 — 36
Russell 20 12 15 16 — 63
EAST CARTER: Burchett 3, Stewart 12, Brammer 2, Greene 4, Marsh 4, Row 2, Neace 7, Lewis 2. Three-point goals: Stewart. FT: 13-25. Team Fouls: 15.
RUSSELL: Estep 8, Hayes 6, Evans 5, Porter 8, Skaggs 26, Tackett 3, McGuire 7. Three-point goals: Skaggs 4, Evans. FT: 8-11. Team fouls: 19.
East Carter 64
It wasn’t hard to find the reason the Lady Raiders are playing Fleming County for the title at 6 p.m. Thursday: a 15-3 run in the second quarter.
At first, East Carter's Bryana Greenhill was the entire offense. Her driving layup and a bucket off Kristen Mayo's pass resulted in a 4-0 lead.
Russell at least had three scorers. Junior Hope Parsley's five points, senior Arden Gross' four and sophomore Shelby Huddleston put the Lady Devils up, 11-8, with 3:30 to go in the first.
“Russell started the game with a little more energy,” East coach Hager Easterling said. “I told (our team) you have to learn to fight and scrap.”
From there, not a Lady Devil (1-2) point was scored until Hannah Carter's three from the left corner with 16 seconds remaining.
In between, East (3-0) unleashed some basketball fundamentals.
There was pinpoint passing when Greenhill, at the top of the key, found Ashley Bayes underneath for a layup.
There was a conversion of a turnover when Greenhill's steal became a Kelsey Stumbo three.
There was an example of the benefit of an extra pass when Greenhill saw Alexis Pennington in the left corner, followed by Pennington's pass to Mayo, who knocked down a three from the left wing.
“They're just an unselfish bunch,” Easterling said.
Mayo (who led East with 13 points) finished the run with four points after she picked up a pair of loose balls, and Megan Stickler added another four points off Mayo's inbounds pass and a turnover conversion.
Stumbo and Pennington each added 12 points.
Russell closed to within 33-21 on Parsley's field goal. She led her team with 13 points.
Easterling called Fleming County a “high-energy team.”
“They're going to fight you 32 minutes,” he said. “We have to be ready to fight back.”
East Carter 11 15 21 17 — 64
Russell 11 3 9 14 — 37
EAST CARTER: Greenhill 8, Mayo 13, Stickler 7, Stumbo 12, Pennington 12, Bayes 6, Boggs 6. Three-point goals: Pennington 2, Stumbo, Mayo. FT: 10-17. Team Fouls: 22.
RUSSELL: Harrison 4, Madison Darnell 1, McKenzie Darnell 1, Gross 8, Parsley 13, Huddleston 2, Thompson 3, Carter 5. Three-point goals: Carter, Thompson, Parsley, Gross, Harrison. FT: 12-26. Team fouls: 14.