Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 18, 2014

Mason bigs too much for Tomcats

RAY SCHAEFER
The Independent

MAYSVILLE — Buddy Biggs was afraid it would occur.

Ashland’s boys basketball coach hoped the Tomcats could somehow counter Mason County’s taller team long enough to escape The Fieldhouse with a win on Friday.

A two-word summary: Didn’t happen. The Royals overcame a 10-point deficit and snapped the Tomcats’ five game winning streak, 56-44.

Mason County’s really, really big trio — six-foot-7 Shawn Johnson, 6-5 Dorian Henry and 6-4 Jake O’Mara — scored 15, 10 and 12 points, respectively. Johnson added 10 rebounds and four of the Royals’ five blocks.

“They’ve got three or four guys that are bigger and stronger than anybody we’ve got,” Biggs said. “That’s why we (2-3) zoned so much; we didn’t want to give away easy baskets … I didn’t really think defense was a problem. I really thought it was the offense.”

Biggs was right on both counts.

For the night, Ashland made just 17 of 49 shots (34.7 percent), including 7 of 18 from 3-point range, but the Tomcats held the Royals to 18-of-52 for 34.6 percent and 4-of-22 3-pointers.

“We shot so poorly and had so many opportunities,” Biggs said. “You can’t beat a really, really good team in their own gym and shoot the way we did.”

Here’s how 15-foot-high-pile-of-gray-frozen-snow ugly it was: Ashland led, 23-13, midway through the second quarter on a Steven Friley driving layup, but from there the Royals outscored the Tomcats, 43-21.

Not all was gloomy. Ashland (12-4) grabbed 26 defensive rebounds to Mason County’s 25, scored seven second-chance points to the Royals’ four and had five steals to Mason County’s three.

Ashland had held the Royals scoreless for just less than six minutes of the second quarter. Then things fell apart. Over the final 2:23, O’Mara hit a 3-pointer from the right corner, Lucas Greenhill drilled one from the left wing 33 seconds later, Cameron Frame made a field goal, and Greenhill knocked down another 3 from the right wing just before the buzzer.

And Ashland? One Friley free throw and two turnovers. The result: 24-24 at intermission.

“We were fortunate to get it back to even at halftime,” Mason County coach Chris O’Hearn said. “We just could not hit an outside shot.”

There were other reasons Mason County (12-3) won, best described by two-word explanations.

There was “Henry’s Harrassment.” Nick Miller led Ashland with 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, but after scoring 12 in the first half and making four 3-pointers, Henry harried him into missing five long-range shots in the second.

“He got underneath me after I shot, and that messed with me a little bit,” Miller said. “I just went cold. (Henry) was a great defensive player, I’ll give him credit, but I went cold.”

Said Biggs: “When you play big, strong kids, that’s what they do. It’s called leverage. They move you out of the way if you don’t get low and move them out of the way first. I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”

Next was “Johnsonian Influence.” Early in the third quarter, Damantie Thornton stole a pass and hurried toward his basket intending a layup, but Johnson swatted the shot, and seconds later Frame hit a 3 from the right corner.

One more block frustrated Ashland when Johnson rejected Christian Villers’s 3-point try from the right corner with two seconds left in the third.

And finally, “Statistical Superiority.” The Royals: shot 84.2 percent (16-of-19) from the free-throw line (Ashland was 3 of 7); had 12 points off the bench to Ashland’s five; forced 14 Tomcat turnovers while committing eight; and narrowly outrebounded the Tomcats, 36-33.

By halftime, Miller was more Reggie than Nick. He finished the half with 12 points (on four 3-pointers) and three rebounds.

Mason County finished the night with a 7-0 run over the final 2:25 on three points each from Johnson and Antwavon Williams and Frame’s free throw.

“Our effort (last night) was outstanding, our execution was outstanding,” Biggs said. “We just have to do a better job of shooting the ball more proficiently.”

Ashland goes to Rose Hill Tuesday, takes U.S. 60 to Summit to meet Boyd County next Friday and hosts Spring Valley (W.Va.) on Jan. 25.