Ashland took advantage of another 20-point night from sophomore Dikembe Dixson and also got 20 from its bench to remain in the winning mode Tuesday night.
Dixson ignited an 18-3 run in the third quarter to break open a close game and the Tomcats fended off Elliott County down the stretch for a 70-65 victory at Anderson Gym.
A four-game winning streak has Ashland at 16-8 on the season.
While Dixson has been a staple in the Tomcats’ success, Tomcat coach Buddy Biggs was happy to see the team’s depth playing a key role again.
Steven Friley scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field, while Tyler Stewart and Tyler Rose each contributed five points.
“That’s why we’re 16-8 instead of 8-16,” Biggs said of the bench production. “I thought those guys were great tonight. All four we put in (including Robert Wesley) did really well. Any time you get 20 points off the bench, it’s great.”
Friley has settled nicely into a reserve role and also had four rebounds in 11 minutes of playing time.
“We all know the starting five doesn’t really matter,” he said. “We have to be ready to come in, keep up that energy and let other guys get a break.”
On a night when Elliott County shot 14-for-36 from beyond the arc, Biggs felt like the Stewart hit the biggest 3-pointer of the game.
After Elliott County closed to 62-60 in the fourth quarter, Ashland’s Zach Hart made a third-chance basket and Stewart followed with a 3-ball from the corner to extend the Tomcats’ lead to seven points with just under two minutes remaining.
“That one was really big for us,” Biggs said.
Elliott County, aided by Ashland misses at the foul line, cut it to 69-65 on freshman guard Landon Griffith’s deep 3-pointer. The Lions had a chance to pull closer but couldn’t connect on their next long-range try.
Ashland’s Ross Thompson then made one of two free throws with nine seconds left.
The Tomcats made it tough on themselves by missing the front end of all three bonus situations in the fourth quarter.
“The only negative tonight was our late-game free throw shooting,” Biggs said. “We turned what could have been a 12- or 13-point margin into a one or two-possession game. We have to do a better job there.”
At the same time, Biggs complimented a gritty Elliott County squad for hanging close.
“Elliott is a solid basketball team,” Biggs said. “They’ve beaten West, they’ve beaten Morgan, they’ve beaten Lewis and they lost by two at Rowan. When you shoot that high volume of 3-pointers, you are going to hit some.”
Despite giving up plenty of size, the Lions (11-11) kept the score close most of the way despite an off-shooting night by top scorer Logan Nickell. The junior was scoreless in the first half and 4-for-18 overall.
“They are aggressive, a good team to be that small,” said the 6-foot-6 Dixson.
Nickell did connect on a 3-pointer early in the third quarter to trim Ashland’s lead to 38-37, but Dixson went on a tear by scoring 13 points to fuel the Tomcats’ big run. He made a variety of shots, including a glide through the lane to put his team up by 19.
“He’s hard to defend,” Elliott County coach Greg Adkins said. “We couldn’t get stops for three or four minutes. We go through that at different times. We’ve not good enough to have those lapses.”
Even so, Adkins said he was proud of the way the Lions fought back.
“I like the way our kids battled,” he said. “We had opportunities.”
Landon Griffith hit five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points. Jesse Flanery connected on his first four attempts from 3-point land to account for all 12 of his points.
Not to be outdone, Ashland’s Logan Salow bombed in his first four 3-point attempts — three of them coming in the opening quarter.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.