For The Independent
MT. STERLING —
A pair of convincing wins over 16th Region contenders lifted Ashland’s stock significantly in the season’s first week.
The Tomcats head into the second week firmly grounded, thanks to 10th Region favorite Montgomery County.
The Indians, who advanced to the state tournament semifinals a year ago, picked up where they left off by handing Ashland a 95-60 thrashing in the final game of the first Bart Rison Classic on Saturday.
Ashland (2-1) was coming off an 81-59 demolition of district rival Boyd County on Friday. Playing a second game in two days seemed to take its toll as Montgomery County outscored the Tomcats 51-25 in the second half.
“(Ashland coach) Buddy (Biggs) played a rival the night before and this was our first game,” said Montgomery County coach Jason Holland, who won his debut at the school after replacing Happy Osborne. He moved on to Kentucky Wesleyan after last season. “They probably hadn’t even had time to look at us and we prepared for them all week. We didn’t know how it would go being the first game. We got off to a good start and when we saw them putting up the threes, we thought that was a good sign for us. I thought both teams played hard but you could tell they had played last night and we hadn’t.”
Ashland (2-1), which had much success imposing its defensive will on Lewis County and Boyd County, had little success against the Indians and their athletic backcourt. Bryan Wallace was able to slice through the Tomcats’ pressure and get to the rim seemingly at will. The senior guard led all scorers with 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting. He also dished out a team-high five assists and recorded three steals.
“He is a next-level player,” said Biggs. “He is going to play somewhere. We had no answer for him. He is a strong kid who was able to get into the paint at will against us. He is going to play somewhere and probably for free.”
Montgomery County’s length harassed the Tomcats the entire contest as it helped force 21 turnovers, including 16 steals. Still Ashland did itself no favors once it broke the press, missing numerous short jumpers and putbacks when the contest was still in doubt.
“By my count we missed 15 shots from close range,” said Biggs. “We had all kinds of easy shots and on Tuesday and Friday we hit those. You have to give them some credit too because they had good length and they can get out and contest a lot of shots.”
Ashland found itself in a hole almost from the start as the Indians began the game with a 12-3 run, including back-to-back dunks from Chase Hall and Darius Jones. The Tomcats closed the gap to 16-15 on a pair of Steven Friley free throws inside the final minute of the first quarter. Twice in the opening minutes of the second quarter the Tomcats shaved the deficit to three but it was as close they got.
The Indians (1-0) put the contest away late in the third quarter when it used a 17-2 run for a 66-44 lead. Wallace was the catalyst, scoring 10 of the points during the decisive run.
Nick Miller led Ashland with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Tyler Stewart and Friley each added 13.
Ashland has seven days off before it faces Eastern in the Boyd County Roundball Classic.
“We have a week to shore some things up before we face another very good team in Eastern,” Biggs said. “Montgomery County was able to find some of our weaknesses and exploit them so now we have to fix it. And, if we don’t, there’s a real good chance we’ll come out and get embarrassed again.”