Russell’s Kyle Skaggs seldom has an off night.
But he was having one Thursday night in the opening round of the Ashland Invitational Tournament against West Jessamine.
Skaggs, the Red Devils’ shooting star who came in with a gaudy 29.5 scoring average, saved his best for last — literally.
Russell’s senior added another chapter to a storybook career when his 28-footer at the buzzer found the bottom of the net to defeat West Jessamine 57-54 in pulsating fashion.
Russell’s sideline erupted in celebration and fans spilled onto the floor after stunning the Colts, who had led most of the game.
Skaggs made only two 3-point shots — his first one and his last one — but it was enough to send the Red Devils into tonight’s semifinals against undefeated Newport Central Catholic.
Did he know it was in?
“Absolutely,” he said. “I wasn’t shooting well the whole night but I got the one that counted. I knew I’d have to use my legs. I just focused up when Googie (Hayes) got me the ball.”
The Colts had the ball with the scored tied at 54 but a diving steal from Lance Evans, who then smartly called a timeout, gave the Red Devils the ball in backcourt with six seconds remaining.
The inbounds pass came to Hayes, who quickly shuffled it to Skaggs. He was closely guarded up the floor but found enough space to launch a long 3-pointer and then watch it splash down.
“I was counting in my head (the remaining seconds),” he said. “I knew it was going to be a pretty deep shot.”
Russell coach Merle Kidwell had the perfect view. “I was looking right at it. When he shoots it, we expect it to go in.”
When the ball went through the net, it triggered a celebration on the James A. Anderson gym floor. “We’ve had so many good competitive games where we’ve come up short. It was kind of a release for all of us,” Kidwell said.
The Red Devils (9-3) looked headed for another AIT disappointment. Kidwell’s teams hadn’t fared well in recent trips and he lost his only game in the AIT as a player at Lewis County.
“That might have been part of why we celebrated so much, too,” he said.
Skaggs was only 2-for-13 from the field prior to making the memorable game-winner. He still finished with a team-high 15 points but it was the play of his teammates that bailed out the Red Devils.
Hayes scored 11 and buried three triples while Jacob Porter scored 13 and Stephen Estep came off the bench for 10 points and five rebounds. Evans had eight points and 11 rebounds.
“We had some guys who played bit tonight,” Skaggs said. “If I’m having a bad night as long as I can get my teammates involved that works.”
Skaggs hit the first shot of the game — a 3-pointer — but the Red Devils fell behind 19-5 after committing seven turnovers in the opening quarter. The largest deficit was 16 points.
West Jessamine ran into foul trouble with three of its starters in the third quarter but held a 41-27 lead when the Red Devils began mounting a comeback. A 16-4 run cut the deficit to 45-43.
Evans and Estep scored on back-to-back trips inside the last two minutes to tie the game at 54 and then Evans came up with a steal.
Sophomore Rashawn Jackson came off the bench for 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Colts. Will Henderson and Daulton Peters both scored nine points.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.
Russell’s Kyle Skaggs seldom has an off night.
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