Darion Burns not only took over the 16th Region Tournament, he put on a show while doing it.
That’s why the Fleming County junior was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Burns is the 50th MVP in tournament history, and it’s well-deserved, said Fleming County coach Mark Starns.
“Big-time players step up in big-time situations,” Starns said. “Darion took over Thursday night and then took over tonight.”
After being held to just nine points in Fleming County’s first-round game against Lewis County, Burns exploded against Ashland.
The junior scored a game-high 30 points in the Panthers’ 81-72 double-overtime win over Ashland on Thursday.
He then scored 21 against Rowan County in the championship game, including three highlight-reel dunks.
But when asked his feeling on winning the top individual honor, it really didn’t matter to Burns.
“It feels great but this is a team sport,” Burns said. “It means more to win the championship than it does the individual award.”
Starns, who has coached in Kentucky for a long time, said it’s easy to compare his star point guard to past Kentucky high school greats.
According to Starns, the most obvious comparison is to current LSU standout and former Mr. Kentucky Basketball Anthony Hickey.
“He’s cut from the same cloth,” Starns said. “I coached against Anthony for four years. Anthony’s got a little better jump shot from 3-point range ... we’re going to send Darion to a shooting camp to make him a double threat like that.”
Probably the best moment of the game for Fleming County fans was when Starns removed the starters in the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead.
Starns and Burns shared a long hug on the sidelines, both smiling from ear-to-ear.
“He said he was proud of us,” Burns said. “That we played our hearts out all year and this is what we wanted and we got it.”
Burns is the first Fleming County player to earn MVP honors in the 16th Region.
Darion Burns (Fleming County); Brady Saunders (Fleming County); Desmond McAdams (Fleming County) Troy Steward (Fleming County) Austin Crisp (Fleming County) Jalen Stone (Rowan County); Tyler Thacker (Rowan County); Josh Barnard (Rowan County); Ross Lane (Russell); Kyle Skaggs (Russell); Logan Salow (Ashland); Dikembe Dixson (Ashland); Jordan Perry (Morgan County); Austin Hunt (Boyd County); Brett Ruckel (Lewis County); Jacob Layne (West Carter).
While Fleming County earned its first 16th Region championship, the Panthers have won region titles before.
Fleming County won three 10th Region titles in 1974, 1998 and 1999. Flemingsburg High School won a region title in 1923.
Panthers assistant coach Josh Graham was a member of those ’98 and ’99 teams.
“It’s almost more rewarding now than when I was a player,” Graham said of Fleming County’s win on Friday. “I’ve been with this junior class since the eighth grade. I’ve been pushing them, and I knew they were talented, but it was just about finally putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
When asked if this team can do what his team did in repeating as region champs, Graham said it all comes down to replacing this team’s one senior.
“It’s very possible,” Graham said. “Most of our core guys are coming back — we lose a senior in Desmond McAdams. As long as we can get someone to replace him next year there is a chance.”
And when it comes to next week’s State Tournament in Rupp Arena, Graham remembers what it was like for his first game there.
“In all honesty it’s going to take little bit of luck,” Graham said. “ This is uncharted waters so it will be difficult. When I played that first game it was the hardest for us. But, once you get that first game under the belt, get your nerves calmed down, it will be all right.”
The attendance for Friday night’s championship game was estimated at more than 5,800.
According to Paul Rhodes, the Morehead State tickets and facilities manager, it’s the largest crowd to see a region final since Elliott County’s run of championships from 2007-09.
“We were pretty packed with standing-room only areas full,” he said. “Probably (most) since Elliott County run ... we were over 6,000 during that run.”
Rowan County (in Morehead) and Fleming County (eight miles away) are the closest schools to Ellis T. Johnson arena.
First in 20
Starns is the first coach to win the 16th Region title in his first year as head coach of that team since 1993.
Wayne Breeden led Ashland to the first of his two titles by defeating Russell in the final, 80-70.
Be the Three
Before Rowan County, the last team to appear in three straight 16th Region championship games was Elliott County (2007-09). The Lions won all three games.
The mark for most consecutive 16th Region championship game appearances belongs to Ashland. The Tomcats played in eight straight from 1966-73.
Darion Burns not only took over the 16th Region Tournament, he put on a show while doing it.
- Local Sports
Panthers pound Ashland for repeat trip to Rupp (with video)
The Fleming County Panthers waited nearly an hour to ascend the ladders set up under the goals at Ellis T. Johnson Arena on Tuesday night.
To the victor belongs the spoils, which traditionally includes the nets after winning a tournament title. But Fleming County milled around on Morehead State’s floor taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere after handling Ashland 82-59 in the 16th Region Tournament final.
Snipping the twine was almost an afterthought. In fact, except for a minute or so of celebration with their student section immediately following the final buzzer, the Panthers didn’t really even seem all that excited.
They expected to be here, and they were all business after earning back-to-back region titles and trips to Rupp Arena.
AARON SNYDER: Truth or Dare unkind to ’Cats
Ashland was left feeling like the shy kid after an intense game of Truth or Dare.
Truth: Fleming County outrebounded Ashland, 39-24, after Ashland outdueled Greenup County by 10 the night before.
'Relaxed' Steward earns MVP award
Both Fleming County coach Mark Starns and stellar senior Troy Steward attributed his significant strides this season to aggressiveness.
Playing a part, too, in Steward earning the 16th Region Tournament Most Valuable Player award was the lack of nerves, which were nearly overwhelming at times a year ago.
Central's 15th Region reign continues
Once was good.
Twice was nice.
Three was sweet for the Johnson Central Eagles.
Senior Slade McPeek scored 22 points and earned most valuable player honors Tuesday night as Johnson Central rolled past Shelby Valley, 81-56, for its third straight 15th Region championship at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
- Fleming goes for two: Panthers beat Ashland for 16th Region repeat Fleming County pulled away early and never looked back as the Panthers pounced on Ashland, winning 82-59 in the 16th Region championship game on Tuesday in Morehead. Fleming County will face Scott County in the Sweet Sixteen next Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
VIDEO: 16th Region semifinals highlights
Fleming County defeated Lewis County, 66-58, and Ashland beat Greenup County, 81-61, on Monday night at Morehead State University to set up tonight's championship matchup. Tipoff is set for 7.
Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game
Tyler Stewart is known for his unrelenting hustle as one of Ashland’s glue guys.
When the senior guard can pitch in some offense too, as he did Monday in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, that’s just one more problem for Tomcats opponents.
Stewart scored 20 points, senior Steven Friley posted a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Ashland outscored Greenup County 21-9 in the third quarter to break open what was a seven-point game at halftime and cruise past the Musketeers, 81-61.
Fleming battles back to 16th Region final
A healthy Wilder Williams this season has given Fleming County a whole new dimension.
Prior to his sophomore year, Williams sustained a football injury that resulted in three ankle surgeries and limited him to bench duty last season while the Panthers made their run to the 16th Region championship.
A physical 6-foot-3 player, Williams is making his presence felt around the basket as Fleming County looks to return to the Sweet Sixteen.
AARON SNYDER: Will the next hero be unmasked?
Who will the bat signal shine for tonight?
Or, should I say, the Cat signal?
In the third installment of a trilogy that might rival the Batman three-pack of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Fleming County and Ashland will battle in a matchup that has produced a classic clash in each of the last two 16th Region Tournaments.
If the first two collectively served as a gradual progressions to tonight’s scene, the climax could be off the charts.
Corey Gregg was Ashland’s superhero in 2012, when the senior confidently fired a perfect 3-point shot from the right corner. The triple thrust the Tomcats and Panthers into overtime, from which Ashland emerged 79-73 in a first-round game.
Central wins, Lawrence falls in 15th
The biggest concern for Lawrence County coach Josh Cook was staying out of foul trouble.
His team stayed in it all night, and it cost them a spot in the 15th Region title game.
Shelby Valley senior Tyler Carr led four players in double figures with 19 points as the Wildcats knocked off Lawrence County, 72-60, in the semifinals of the 15th Region Tournament at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
“This one hurts,” said Cook. “We’ll learn from this, and I have no doubt that our kids will get back here and finish the job.”
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- Panthers pound Ashland for repeat trip to Rupp (with video)