By RAY SCHAEFER
For The Independent
What injured left big toe?
Russell senior guard Kyle Skaggs seemed to play with all 10 lower digits fully functional Friday at Fleming County. His 27 points helped the Red Devils overcome two 17-point deficits to depart The Den with a 67-62 win. It marked the Panthers’ first loss inside the 16th Region this season.
Skaggs wasn't exactly sensational in the first half: just six points on 2-of-6 shooting. The second half was superb: six-of-10 from the field, 21 points, 11 of 11 at the free-throw line, five assists for the game and just one turnover all night.
“Starting out, I knew I had to get some adrenaline going, get the blood flowing best I could,” Skaggs said. “I practiced (Thursday) on it; it didn't feel great, but it was definitely playable.”
After sitting Monday's game at Lewis County and Tuesday's loss at West Carter, Russell coach Merle Kidwell was going to keep Skaggs out against Fleming County until Thursday's conversation.
“He said, 'Coach, I promise you I'm not going to damage it, it's not going to be a lingering thing, I need to play,’” Kidwell said. “... He wanted to play; I think he wanted to see how it reacted, and I'm sure he'll have to ice it down.
“We'll have to be real careful in practice.”
As far as Kidwell was concerned, Fleming County's four-game winning streak ended for reasons other than Skaggs: senior guard Googie Hayes, who didn't score but had seven assists; junior forward Johnny McGuire's 13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks; senior Lance Evans' nine points and two steals, which included four points in less than a minute to put the Red Devils ahead, 59-56; and senior guard Jacob Porter's 18 points, all on six 3-pointers.
Those were just some of the individual statistics. As a team, Russell: out-rebounded Fleming County, 29-23; made 53.7 percent of its shots; and committed just three second-half turnovers after coughing up eight in the first 16 minutes.
The number 27 was important for another reason — it's how many Russell points scored in the fourth quarter while limiting Fleming County to 17. The Red Devils thus overcame the Panthers' 30-13 lead with 5:44 left in the second quarter and a 32-15 deficit a little less than three minutes later.
Russell's defense was stingy late. It held Fleming County to just one field goal over the final 3:59, and the Red Devils outscored the Panthers, 42-27, in the second half.
Fleming County juniors Darion Burns, Troy Steward and Brady Saunders and senior Austin Crisp provided most of Panthers’ offense. Steward's 16 points and eight rebounds led his team, Burns and Saunders added 14 apiece, and Crisp had 11.
Skaggs' return was inauspicious at first — he missed three straight shots before bagging a layup off a loose ball with 3:24 left in the opening stanza.
Russell (22-7) had more pressing problems in the first half.
There was Steward, who led all scorers with 10 first-half points. Burns had seven points but served eight assists in the half. Russell also surrendered 10 turnovers, which Fleming County (20-5) converted into nine points.
McGuire's three-point play gave Russell a 65-59 lead with 8.5 seconds left. After Skaggs' two free throws, Saunders' 3-pointer with 1.1 ticks remaining ended the scoring.
“We don't get down on ourselves,” Porter said. “We don't quit.”