By MATT FULTZ
For The Independent
When Russell and Greenup County square off in the opening round of the 63rd District tournament, the underdog Musketeers won’t have the element of surprise on their side.
Not after their trip to Marvin Meredith Gymnasium Friday night.
The Red Devils found themselves playing a very different team than the one they handed a 68-31 drubbing back in late November.
Despite the much improved play of the Musketeers and an off-shooting night from leading scorer Kyle Skaggs, Russell still found a way to come out on top, 54-44.
“If they think they can just walk in there the first round and they're going straight to Morehead (16th Region tournament site), they know now Greenup County has improved a lot,” said Russell coach Merle Kidwell. “I’m not sure they are the four seed the way that they are playing right now.”
“I am really proud of my guys,” said Greenup County coach Harold Tackett. “We came in here tonight and gave them everything that they wanted.”
However, the win did cost the Red Devils somewhat of a secret weapon of their own, senior Ross Lane.
Lane, whose minutes vary greatly from game to game, did not even make the Greenup County scouting report, but sure made his presence felt in the box score.
The senior drained three 3-pointers, all in the second half, helping give the Red Devils some breathing room. His last 3 gave Russell a 12-point advantage, its largest of the game with just 4:42 remaining in the final period.
“I turned to my coaches, and thought back to all the scouting film that we watched, and asked, 'Who is this kid?' They all kind of just shrugged their shoulders,” Tackett said. “Really and truly he was the difference in the game.”
“We gave Ross an opportunity in the second half, after going with some different options in the first half,” Kidwell said. “Ross has continued to work hard and is a real competitor. He is a tri-athlete now and has himself in great physical shape. Tonight was how he shot the ball as a sophomore — he had an off year last year — but tonight he had his form back and made some huge shots.”
And with Greenup County playing a triangle-and-two defense on Skaggs and Jacob Porter, the Red Devils needed all the extra offense they could find. The team’s two leading scorers combined for just 16 points on 3-of-17 shooting from the floor.
Googie Hayes also helped out by contributing all seven of his points after the intermission.
“We are trying to get (Hayes) to look at the basket more,” Kidwell said. “I told him at halftime that he has been shooting it well in practice, and tonight we need him to look to score.”
While it was Hayes and Lane after halftime, it was Lance Evans who did most of the heavy lifting in the first 16 minutes.
The senior scored 14 points in the first half, including all 10 of the Red Devils' points in the second quarter. Evans did his best work on the glass, where he gobbled up offensive rebounds and converted them into points. Evans led all scorers with 18 points.
Tackett, whose team held Russell to just better than 20 percent shooting in the first half, talked to his team about finishing possessions.
“We talked to them about blocking out,” he said. “Russell is a senior-laden team and they just know what they have to do to win.”
Justin Bond led Greenup County in scoring with 14 points. Brandon Johnson added nine while being hampered with foul trouble.