If you were wondering, Nick Miller’s back is feeling just fine.
His return and Ashland’s second-half performance broke the back of the Russell Red Devils.
Miller returned to the lineup after missing several games with a back injury. He came off the bench to score a game-high 23 points to lead his team to 78-50 victory over rival Russell in front of a packed Marvin Meredith Gymnasium on Friday night.
“It feels great to come back. It’s awful to sit and watch your team mates play and can’t do anything to help,” Miller said. “My back feels really good right now.”
Miller hasn’t lost his shooting stroke either. The junior was 8-of-13, including five from long range. The Tomcats shot over 50 percent from the field and connected on seven triples out of 13 attempts.
“I didn’t expect what he did at all, to be honest,” said Ashland coach Buddy Biggs.”But that’s a credit to him and how hard he works and what type of kid he is.”
Ashland (19-8) broke a halftime tie with the help of a 14-4 run. Guards Ross Thompson and Tyler Stewart cranked up the Tomcats’ energy level and their defensive pressure, leading to Red Devil turnovers and layups at the other end.
Stewart scored seven of his 21 points during that span. Thompson’s 3-ball from the right wing two minutes later gave the Tomcats their biggest lead of the quarter at 46-32.
“Tyler and Ross are really good at applying ball pressure,” Biggs said. “When they play like that, it’s really hard for the other team.”
Ashland continued to torch the Red Devils in the fourth. The lead was extended to 20 on Stewart 3-point play with six minutes left and the Tomcats coasted in from there.
Ashland outscored Russell 51-24 in the second half and forced 20 Red Devil turnovers for the game. According to Russell coach Merle Kidwell, it is something that has haunted his team all season.
“They turned up the pressure and handling the ball has been a bugaboo of us all year long,” Kidwell said. “We didn’t play well in the third quarter. Ashland started making shots and Miller kept making threes.”
Thompson reached double figures with 14 and Steven Friley tallied a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Russell honored seven seniors before its last regular season home game. The Red Devils parlayed the emotional festivities into some very inspired play in the first half.
Russell (6-23) also had one of its stars back on the court. Senior point guard Ramsey Mullins was in the starting lineup on Senior Night after recovering from a foot injury. The Red Devils have experienced injury problems for most of the season.
“We had only two practices with our whole team healthy,” Kidwell said. “We have 19 players in our program and Wednesday was the first time our whole team practiced together.”
Mullins scored seven of the Red Devils’ first 11 points as Russell shot out to an early lead. Heath Hensley’s floater in the lane gave Russell a 18-13 lead after the first stanza.
Russell’s biggest lead was 22-15 on a Zach Tackett drive early in the second but the Tomcats rallied to knot up the score at 27-all by intermission.
“They came out with alot of emotion and enthusiasm and played a great first half which kept us off-balanced,” Biggs said. “They made us play to their style and that’s a credit to their coaches.
“We knew we had to weather that storm and come out in the third quarter and respond,” he added.
Tackett led the Red Devils in scoring with 13. Mullins chipped in with 11.
“We battled for a half,” Kidwell said. “I told the kids that if we put 32 minutes together Tuesday we will have a chance.”
Russell will host the 63rd District Tournament and will meet Lewis Co in the opening round Tuesday night.
Ashland plays Rose Hill when it starts its postseason run Monday night at Boyd County Middle School.
If you were wondering, Nick Miller’s back is feeling just fine.
- Local Sports
Panthers pound Ashland for repeat trip to Rupp (with video)
The Fleming County Panthers waited nearly an hour to ascend the ladders set up under the goals at Ellis T. Johnson Arena on Tuesday night.
To the victor belongs the spoils, which traditionally includes the nets after winning a tournament title. But Fleming County milled around on Morehead State’s floor taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere after handling Ashland 82-59 in the 16th Region Tournament final.
Snipping the twine was almost an afterthought. In fact, except for a minute or so of celebration with their student section immediately following the final buzzer, the Panthers didn’t really even seem all that excited.
They expected to be here, and they were all business after earning back-to-back region titles and trips to Rupp Arena.
AARON SNYDER: Truth or Dare unkind to ’Cats
Ashland was left feeling like the shy kid after an intense game of Truth or Dare.
Truth: Fleming County outrebounded Ashland, 39-24, after Ashland outdueled Greenup County by 10 the night before.
'Relaxed' Steward earns MVP award
Both Fleming County coach Mark Starns and stellar senior Troy Steward attributed his significant strides this season to aggressiveness.
Playing a part, too, in Steward earning the 16th Region Tournament Most Valuable Player award was the lack of nerves, which were nearly overwhelming at times a year ago.
Central's 15th Region reign continues
Once was good.
Twice was nice.
Three was sweet for the Johnson Central Eagles.
Senior Slade McPeek scored 22 points and earned most valuable player honors Tuesday night as Johnson Central rolled past Shelby Valley, 81-56, for its third straight 15th Region championship at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
- Fleming goes for two: Panthers beat Ashland for 16th Region repeat Fleming County pulled away early and never looked back as the Panthers pounced on Ashland, winning 82-59 in the 16th Region championship game on Tuesday in Morehead. Fleming County will face Scott County in the Sweet Sixteen next Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
VIDEO: 16th Region semifinals highlights
Fleming County defeated Lewis County, 66-58, and Ashland beat Greenup County, 81-61, on Monday night at Morehead State University to set up tonight's championship matchup. Tipoff is set for 7.
Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game
Tyler Stewart is known for his unrelenting hustle as one of Ashland’s glue guys.
When the senior guard can pitch in some offense too, as he did Monday in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, that’s just one more problem for Tomcats opponents.
Stewart scored 20 points, senior Steven Friley posted a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Ashland outscored Greenup County 21-9 in the third quarter to break open what was a seven-point game at halftime and cruise past the Musketeers, 81-61.
Fleming battles back to 16th Region final
A healthy Wilder Williams this season has given Fleming County a whole new dimension.
Prior to his sophomore year, Williams sustained a football injury that resulted in three ankle surgeries and limited him to bench duty last season while the Panthers made their run to the 16th Region championship.
A physical 6-foot-3 player, Williams is making his presence felt around the basket as Fleming County looks to return to the Sweet Sixteen.
AARON SNYDER: Will the next hero be unmasked?
Who will the bat signal shine for tonight?
Or, should I say, the Cat signal?
In the third installment of a trilogy that might rival the Batman three-pack of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Fleming County and Ashland will battle in a matchup that has produced a classic clash in each of the last two 16th Region Tournaments.
If the first two collectively served as a gradual progressions to tonight’s scene, the climax could be off the charts.
Corey Gregg was Ashland’s superhero in 2012, when the senior confidently fired a perfect 3-point shot from the right corner. The triple thrust the Tomcats and Panthers into overtime, from which Ashland emerged 79-73 in a first-round game.
Central wins, Lawrence falls in 15th
The biggest concern for Lawrence County coach Josh Cook was staying out of foul trouble.
His team stayed in it all night, and it cost them a spot in the 15th Region title game.
Shelby Valley senior Tyler Carr led four players in double figures with 19 points as the Wildcats knocked off Lawrence County, 72-60, in the semifinals of the 15th Region Tournament at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
“This one hurts,” said Cook. “We’ll learn from this, and I have no doubt that our kids will get back here and finish the job.”
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- Panthers pound Ashland for repeat trip to Rupp (with video)