At 5-foot-11, Fleming County junior guard Darion Burns is not the tallest Panther.
He is also a 71-inch reason the Panthers will go for a 16th Region championship tonight. His 30 points led Fleming County to an 81-72 double-overtime win over Ashland at Morehead State University's Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
Burns did just about everything you could ask: 10-of-20 from the field; 10-of-17 from the free-throw line; 12 rebounds; five assists; two steals; and just one turnover.
Which was pretty much what Fleming County coach Mark Starns has grown to enjoy. “Big-time players step up in big-time situations,” he said.
Burns, meanwhile, talked about the free throws. He said blocking out distractions helped him last night.
“I was just clearing my mind,” he said. “I thought I was in the gym by myself.”
As good as Burns was, there were also more than enough great plays to fill an ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 from last night alone.
No. 10 –—There were eight ties and nine lead changes.
No. 9 — Burns wasn't the only Panther to rack up a double-double. Troy Steward scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Brady Saunders added 15 points with 14 boards.
No. 8 — Ashland's Dikembe Dixson had 26 points and 11 rebounds. His teammate, senior Zach Hart, had 19 points — including 5-of-7 from three-point range.
No. 7 — The Tomcats and Panthers combined for 88 points in the paint (Fleming County had 46).
Sixth — Fleming County (27-6) overwhelmed Ashland in fast-break points, 14-2. The most important were Burns' two run-outs in the last two minutes of the second overtime, which gave his team a 72-65 lead.
Fifth — Burns recovered from two first-quarter plays you might see at a football game: Ashland senior Logan Salow slammed him into a basket support; and crashed to the floor after blocking a Ross Thompson shot.
“Those were some tough plays,” Burns said. “I went down hard, but I got back up. I just banged up my knee a little bit.”
Fourth? Burns either splitting two defenders, including the 6-6 Dixson, for baskets, or finding teammates with beautiful ball-handling. An example of the latter: with 3:21 left in the third quarter, Burns drove down the middle of the free throw lane and looked for Austin Crisp on the right wing — and no-looked to Desmond McAdams, who put in the layup.
“I was just confident to get it over the tall defender,” Burns said. “I work on that shot a lot.”
At No. 3 — Ashland's 15-2 run over the final 4:14 of the fourth quarter. Hart's two 3-pointers from the top of the free throw circle led the attack to tie the game at 55-all.
“I thought we made a few shots,” Ashland coach Buddy Biggs said. “We went on a dry spell for so long.”
Second — Salow's three from the right corner with a second left that sent the game to a second overtime.
With six seconds left, Dixson inbounded to Thompson, who found Salow in the corner. Salow's shot spun around the rim once and hit the backboard before dropping in.
“Honestly, I thought it was out,” Salow said. “When went up, I had some faith. Then I saw it hit the rim.
“I kind of squatted down, and I didn't see it go in. Everybody went crazy.”
And No. 1. — Fleming County's overwhelming Ashland, 18-9, in the second overtime. Burns scored eight points, and Steward nailed six of eight free throws.
Burns scored Fleming County's first four points, two free throws and an offensive rebound and stick-back.
“They just got to the rim on us,” Biggs said. “Then (Burns) got a couple run-outs on us, and that was that.”
Burns didn't think playing 40 minutes last night would hurt the Panthers against Rowan County — a 53-50 semifinal winner over Russell — tonight.
“It might have some effect, but not a lot,” Burns said. “We'll just … take care of our bodies and take ice baths.”
To Biggs, this season was a success for at least two reasons: finishing 23-10 despite having just two seniors, Hart and Salow; and winning a fifth straight 64th District crown. Salow, meanwhile, prefers remembering what happened away from the gym.
“(It was) being a family,” Salow said. “I love each and every one of these guys. We hang out together all the time.
“Those are the best memories you make — off the court.”