Marshall University basketball signee Shane Hall’s name is known far and wide, but the 6-foot-9 senior’s supporting cast at Johnson Central stepped to the forefront in Friday’s opener of the 59th annual Ashland Invitational Tournament.
Hall sat out almost seven minutes of the second half with four fouls in a tight battle against Simon Kenton at James A. Anderson Gym.
No matter. The Golden Eagles used major contributions from Braxton Blair, Kyle Gullett and Slade McPeek to help secure a 64-62 win.
“Shane’s a great player, but we have a lot of pieces around him that help make him the player he is,” Johnson Central coach Tommy McKenzie said.
Hall, who missed the team’s last two practices due to sickness, still managed 13 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots with Marshall head coach Tom Herrion watching from the stands.
However, Hall headed to the bench with 1:27 left in the third quarter after picking up his third and fourth fouls in rapid succession.
With the Golden Eagles up 47-41 after three quarters, Blair led an 8-4 run to start the final period by scoring six points and making a no-look pass to Gullett for the other basket.
“Braxton played great,” said McPeek, who sparked the team with his defensive play in the second half and finished with eight steals.
Blair, averaging 15.3 points, scored 11 of his 17 in the second half, along with key assists.
“After Shane went out, we ran some isolations and clearouts for me,” Blair said. “With him out, I try to get into the lane and facilitate for everybody else.”
Blair found Gullett for another layup to make it 59-47. Gullett, a 6-6 junior, was 5-of-8 from the floor and supplied 14 points, including two late free throws after his own steal for a 64-60 lead.
“He’s an excellent shooter,” Blair said. “For his size, Kyle can put the ball on the floor, drive and rebound.”
Noah Robinson made a basket with 12 seconds left to get Simon Kenton within 64-62. After a Johnson Central turnover, Hall blocked a Robinson shot under the basket and the ball ended up with the Pioneers’ Alex Childers, who was fouled with five-tenths of a second on the clock.
Childers’ first attempt in the bonus situation rimmed out and Hall went high to snare the rebound.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said McKenzie, who was an AIT All-Tournament selection in 1999, when the Golden Eagles went 2-1 in the tournament.
Johnson Central (4-4) will meet unbeaten Roger Bacon from the Greater Cincinnati area in tonight’s opening semifinal at 7.
Roger Bacon, ranked second in Ohio’s Division III, shot 56 percent from the field in holding off 16th Region defending champion Fleming County on Friday.
For Simon Kenton (5-3), Taylor Morrison made four 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 25 points. Robinson added 12.
J. CENTRAL 14 17 16 17 — 64
S. KENTON 18 11 12 21 — 62
Johnson Central (64) — Adkins 5, Blair 17, McPeek 7, Gullett 14, Hall 13, Salyer 4, McKenzie 4, Rice. FT: 17-30. 3-point FGs: 3 (Gullett 2, Adkins). PF: 17. Fouled out: None.
Simon Kenton (62) — Kuntz 3, Pracht 1, Morrison 25, Mullins 2, Robinson 14, Vercheak 6, Childers 9, Doughtery 2. FT: 10-18. 3-point FGs: 8 (Morrison 4, Childers 3, Kuntz). PF: 19. Fouled out: None.
Roger Bacon 65
Fleming County 60
Highly regarded Roger Bacon is one of the rare out-of-state teams to appear in the AIT and used a strong shooting performance to overcome foul problems and 18 turnovers.
The Spartans, off to a 6-0 start, were sharp offensively early and late. They shot 8-for-10 from the field in the opening quarter to take a five-point lead, and went 8-for-11 in the final eight minutes to close out the Panthers.
“Up to this point that’s the best, and I emphasize this, team (air quotes), we have faced,” Fleming County coach Mark Starns said.
Carlas Jackson, a smooth-shooting 6-4 senior, led the Spartans with 15 points including three treys in five attempts. His final triple triggered a 10-3 spurt that gave Roger Bacon its largest lead at 55-42 midway through the fourth quarter.
The lead was 12 with 1:31 left, but Fleming County refused to wilt. Troy Steward, who finished with a game-high 27 points, connected on two 3-pointers down the stretch to help cut it to 63-58 with 13 seconds showing.
Starns pointed to his team’s 27 deflections as one of the positives.
Austin Frentsos scored 14 and Dahmere Epperson 12 for Roger Bacon. Senior center Fred Moore came in averaging a team-high 15.8 points, but sat out most of the first half due to foul trouble. He did come through with two baskets in the final period.
Spartans assistant Kyle Haney is a longtime friend of Ashland coach Buddy Biggs and also coached on Mike Flynn’s staff at Covington Holmes. Roger Bacon was a regional finalist last season and finished 24-4.
“The hospitality has been incredible so far,” Spartans coach Brian Neal said. “We’ve been to quite a few of these (tournaments). We’ve heard a lot about this one. I’m glad we’re here.”
Steward provided 20 of Fleming County’s 34 second-half points. Brady Saunders totaled 12 points for the Panthers (6-4), coming off a 2-1 showing in the US Bank Murphy Classic at Mason County.
FLEMING CO. 13 13 13 21 — 60
ROGER BACON 18 15 12 20 — 65
Fleming County (60) — Williams 7, Crisp 5, Steward 27, Saunders 12, McKee 6, Crumbie 3. FT: 16-25. 3-point FGs: 4 (Steward 3, Crumbie). PF: 13. Fouled out: None.
Roger Bacon (65) — Jackson 15, Frentsos 14, Epperson 12, Williams 8, Moore 4, Higgs 7, McBride 2, Niesen 3, Greene, McGee. FT: 9-15. 3-point FGs: 4 (Jackson 3, Frentsos). PF: 24. Fouled out: None.