Almost exactly four years ago, a young Russell team possessing a skinny freshman guard named Kyle Skaggs and all of two wins to its name ventured into Vanceburg hoping to merely compete with the eventual 63rd District champion and 16th Region runner-up.
For Merle Kidwell, it was his first time coaching against his alma mater for which he played and coached.
With some gut-churning contests sandwiched in between, the first and most previous meetings since Kidwell took over at Russell were as opposite as white and wheat.
Russell handed the Lions a 77-50 beatdown on Tuesday night at Marvin Meredith Gymnasium.
“They had our number when we were playing our younger kids,” Kidwell said. “Even two years ago when we were playing (against Lewis County), (Skaggs) and Jacob (Porter) and them couldn’t finish those shots in the lane. Now they’re seniors. They’ve gotten in the weight room and they finish those plays.”
Skaggs donned a clear mask to protect his recently broken nose, but there was no disguising his 27 points — also his season average. He connected on his final seven shot attempts and was a perfect 7 for 7 from the foul line.
Porter racked up 13 points, five assists and five steals to help the Red Devils (13-4) to a fourth straight victory.
Another senior, Lance Evans, helped create quick separation with unexpected three-point shooting. Evans banged in three of his five long ball tries as the Lions left plenty of space for him on the perimeter. He was previously 3 for 11 through 16 games this season.
“When we first got Lance, he just wanted to stay around the three-point line,” said Kidwell of the former Boyd County Lion. “He grew up as a guard. We told him he could take threes, but we needed him inside.”
Evans finished with 13 points, but the 6-foot-5 forward also played a key role defensively.
Russell held Lewis County’s leading scorer Brett Ruckel (21.7 PPG) to 12 total points, including none in the first quarter.
“I think it was the length that bothered us,” said Lewis County coach Joe Hampton. “We got by initial defenders a lot but we couldn’t finish because of the size they had inside.”
Wade Adams chipped in 11 points for the Lions, who were held to a cool 30.2 percent from the floor.
Kidwell said intensified defense became a real focal point of practice following the Ashland Invitational Tournament.
“After the AIT, defense was one area we needed improvement,” Kidwell said. “We’ve done some old school drills in practice. Kids have bought into it and taken it to heart.”
During the current four-game win streak, each opponent has scored in the 50s.
Lewis County (8-7) trimmed a 17-point deficit to 13 by halftime on a couple of Ruckel free throws.
Three consecutive turnovers to open the third quarter “set the tone for the second half,” said Hampton.
A pair of three-point plays by Skaggs helped put the game into blowout status.
Hampton said he recognizes that Russell is a top contender for the region. He’s coached a few teams like it.
“We would like to be where they’re at in a year or two,” he said.
Emotions ramped up during the first minute of the final quarter when Lewis County’s Jordan Davis and Porter got tangled up going for a rebound. Both hit the deck and each were slapped with a technical foul as a jumpball was the official call.
Moments later, officials whistled Lewis County’s Trenton Walker with an intentional foul, but nothing mounted into anything serious.
Notes: Kidwell is now 6-7 against Lewis County as Russell’s coach. Russell and Lewis County will meet again on Saturday, Feb. 2, in Vanceburg.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.
com or (606) 326-2664.