Opponents know the danger in sending Russell’s Kyle Skaggs to the free-throw line.
The Red Devils’ sixth-year starter was automatic Tuesday night, sinking all 14 freebies in a season-opening 68-62 victory over Boyd County at Marvin Meredith Gymnasium.
The senior’s last two free throws with 20 seconds remaining sealed the outcome after Boyd County finally discovered its shooting touch and rallied from a 19-point deficit to get within 66-60.
“Skaggs is such a good player,” Lions coach Randy Anderson said. “He knows how to play the game, and how to draw contact and get to the foul line.”
Skaggs finished with 31 points and needs only 62 more to become Russell’s all-time leading scorer. He also pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. All three of Skaggs’ 3-pointers came in the first quarter.
Although the 6-foot-2 guard supplied nearly half of his team’s points, he had plenty of help on both ends of the floor as the Red Devils withstood Boyd County’s 34-point fourth quarter.
“I thought defensively for three quarters we were off the charts,” Red Devils coach Merle Kidwell said. “Our plan was to take away the 3-pointer and make them try to score over our post players.”
Boyd County shot a frigid 28 percent from the field in the first half, then started the third quarter 0-for-8.
“Maybe we were too anxious,” Anderson said. “We were just in a hurry tonight, especially early. The kids did what we asked of them to get the ball into good position. We just couldn’t put it in the basket.”
As a result, Russell took its biggest lead at 43-24 after Steven Estep scored inside with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Estep, a junior forward, came off the bench to give the Red Devils a big lift. The bulk of his 10 rebounds and seven points came in the fourth quarter.
“Steven has really come back after tearing up both knees and putting on a lot of weight,” Kidwell said. “He’s lost close to 60 pounds probably since last Christmas.”
Slowed by an ankle injury leading up to the opener, Estep has been in contention for a starting spot and showed why with his performance Friday.
“He had a big steal and also a huge putback in the fourth quarter,” Kidwell said.
Russell guard Jacob Porter scored 13 points before fouling out down the stretch. He splashed a 3-pointer with 2:04 left after Boyd County closed the gap to nine on an Austin Hunt basket.
Senior post player Lance Evans came through with 10 points and seven rebounds in his first start for the Red Devils after missing a chunk of last season due to injury. Skaggs and Evans each made two free throws with just over a minute to go.
“We got 23 points out of Evans, Estep and (new starter) McGuire,” Kidwell said. “As they play, they are going to get better because they have no varsity experience.”
Boyd County came alive at the end of the third quarter and made it a battle down the stretch. Four different Lions connected on a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, when the Lions pressured Russell into five turnovers.
“The kids didn’t quit,” Anderson said. “They believe in what we are doing.”
Freshman Bobby Anderson, the coach’s son, helped spark the comeback with eight points in the final period. Tristan Burgess also had eight fourth-quarter points.
Hunt, who signed with Lincoln Memorial, a Division II school, finished with 13 points and eight rebounds in his first game for the Lions. He sat out last season after transferring from Russell.
“Both teams played hard and clean,” Kidwell said. “Austin brings a lot to the table for them. He hasn’t played in a year.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.