With Fairview at the foul line, Ashland basketball teammates Nick Miller and Steven Friley engaged in a short conversation and shared a chuckle on the other side of midcourt.
They didn’t enjoy each other’s company much on Tuesday, as the normally formidable inside duo was reduced to mostly a solo show.
Miller shined with Friley in foul trouble. His 24 points and 10 rebounds helped lift Ashland to a 75-61 win over Fairview at Anderson Gym.
“Nick maybe had his best game of the year,” said Ashland coach Buddy Biggs. “Steven has been averaging right at 13 rebounds a game the last few games. So (Miller’s) 10 rebounds was a huge key for us. Usually, he and Steven play off each other.”
Friley went to the bench with three fouls with 5:32 left in the second quarter.
Ashland responded with a 19-9 surge to push itself to a 43-28 halftime advantage.
Tyler Stewart put in a pair of quick buckets before Miller sank two free throws and drilled the second of his three 3-pointers.
They weren’t done.
Stewart, as part of his “typical workmanlike effort,” as Biggs called it, came up with another basket before Miller drained another from downtown.
Stewart finished with 15 points, eight of which came in the second period.
Fairview coach Derek Cooksey pointed out a pair of reasons for the Eagles falling decisively behind in the quarter.
“I think fatigue was setting in, and we made some bad decisions that led to easy buckets,” Cooksey said.
Fairview (2-10) used an outstanding offensive performance by Andrew Carroll (26 points on 9-of-17 shooting) and a double-double by Alex Roy (14 points, 11 rebounds) to keep it interesting. However, the Eagles never sliced the Tomcat lead to single digits.
“Give Fairview a lot of credit, they actually beat us in the second half,” Biggs said. “The Roy kid was a big difference for them. When he plays like that, he makes them a much more dangerous team.
“We responded just enough to keep them at bay,” Biggs added. “Our shooting wasn’t necessarily good, but our offensive execution was very good.”
Ashland (11-3) utilized an aggressive approach to visit the free-throw line 31 times. The Tomcats converted on 22 attempts. Fairview was just 7 of 9 from the charity stripe.
Point guard Ross Thompson also helped the offense flow fluidly for the Tomcats. He tallied 13 points, nine assists and just one turnover.
“He takes us to another level when he plays like that,” Biggs said.
Ashland led by as many as 17 in the fourth quarter. Friley recorded his first field goal with 4:06 left in the game to make it 71-54. He still managed seven rebounds despite limited minutes.
Ironically enough, Cooksey said Friley’s absence may have created more significant matchup problems because it forced Roy to guard the quicker Miller.
The Tomcats drew high praise from the opposing coach.
“If you’re asking who the best team in the (16th Region) is right now, I think Ashland is the most complete,” he said. “They probably have the best team chemistry.”
Miller confirmed the latter, quickly relaying the reason for why the Tomcats are off to a hot start.
“It’s chemistry,” Miller said. “We’ve played together for so long, we know each other extremely well.”
Ashland owns an 11-game winning streak in the series against Fairview. The Eagles’ last win over Ashland came on Dec. 23, 2009.
Emerging sophomore Antwan Washington struggled from the floor, making 4 of 20 shots for Fairview. He posted 10 points and eight rebounds.
Overall, the Eagles shot 40 percent (24 of 60) from the field.
AARON SNYDER can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.