The teams met two times in the 1995-96 regular season, Paintsville won both meetings – the first by 10, the second by 12, but the games were much closer than that. The atmosphere in those two games were second to none, as the Hornets Grayson Smith remembered, “Both of the regular season games had incredible atmospheres. Crowds of people were turned away at the doors and the stands were full of Division 1 basketball AND uncannily, Division 1 football scouts. There was so much pure athletic talent on the floor that it was really unreal.” Paintsville finished the regular season with a 17-10 record, Magoffin finished at 14-12. Both teams realized that they would probably play each other in the district finals again and both teams would be prepared.
They did meet in the finals of the 57th District Tournament for the second straight year, and would be playing the championship on the Hornets home court. The game, shown live on WYMT TV was not as close as the regular season games as the Paintsville Tigers came out of the gate hot and never looked back as they cruised to an 89-62 win. However, what not could be foreseen was that these two teams would meet again in the finals of the 15th Region Tournament in less than a week.
Magoffin advanced to the finals with a two-point win over Pikeville in the first round of the regional tournament and a four-point win over Betsy Layne in the semi-finals. Paintsville advanced by winning by 19 over Pike Central in their opening game and then beat Prestonsburg by 14 in the semi-finals. With the region finals in sight, Magoffin believed that even with the large defeat the Tigers inflicted upon them the week before, that they had a chance to upset Paintsville. Grayson Smith recalled the strategy the Hornets planned to use against the Tigers, “Our first 6 players were all very talented football players. Our game plan was to make the game as physical as possible and as up tempo as possible. We wanted to isolate [Paintsville’s] Matt [Ratliff] and Todd [Tackett] on the top of the key and set them up with hard picks to keep them from being so anxious to guard our perimeter guys. Defensively, I wanted to meet J. R. [VanHoose] at the free throw line and start battling him for position then. We wanted to stay in front of everyone and keep Paintsville from attacking the glass and make them take jump shots.”