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.
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