Nick Miller’s first three-point attempt was an airball, perhaps the ugliest shot of the night.
His next one splashed through the net to cap a scintillating 29-3 Ashland run during an eight-minute stint spanning the first and second quarters.
Miller recorded a career-high 26 points as Ashland drilled Greenup County, 80-45, in the Tomcats’ home opener on Tuesday night.
“Our defense is really what wins us ballgames,” said Miller, a sophomore.
Ashland suffocated Greenup County into 21 first-half turnovers with its full-court press. The Musketeers ended up with 32 miscues.
First-year Greenup County coach Harold Tackett said Ashland provided his young team with some much-needed tutelage.
“I’m thankful teams are pressing us now,” Tackett said. “We can’t mock what Ashland does in practice, we just can’t do it. The only way we’re going to get better is face it. Ashland gave us a really nice lesson on full-court pressure.”
Ashland (4-0) saw its 15-11 first-quarter margin balloon to a 47-19 lead by halftime. Miller had 15 points and fellow sophomore Dikembe Dixson tallied 14 in the first half. Dixson finished with 18 before fouling out.
“I thought (Greenup County) played a great first quarter,” said Ashland coach Buddy Biggs. “(In the second) we relaxed and got into a flow a little bit better offensively.”
Dixson rattled off six consecutive points and 10 of his team’s 14 at one point during the hot stretch.
Steven Friley was highly involved in every facet of the game. The Ashland junior’s well-rounded effort included nine points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
With his tallest team in seven years at Ashland, Biggs was happy to see the Tomcats continue holding their rebounding leverage. They have outrebounded each of their four opponents so far. Friley, at 6-foot-4, has been a key part of that.
“We have emphasized (rebounding) from day one,” Biggs said.
Miller didn’t give the Tomcats many offensive rebounding opportunities. He went 10 of 14 from the field — including two three’s — and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.
He tweaked his approach after his first long ball was well off the mark.
“I didn’t really settle for outside jump shots after that,” Miller said. “I just tried to get to the rim. If I’m not hitting my jump shot, I can try to score at the rim.”
Biggs said that Miller’s versatility would’ve been evident long ago if he had not suffered a stress fracture in his foot as a freshman.
“He’s maybe been our most consistent performer,” Biggs said. “He can drive it and he can shoot it from outside. I think he’s got a chance to be a next-level player.”
Miller has three 20-plus point games already this season.
Bench play was also important for the Tomcats, who quickly encountered foul trouble. Zach Hart committed three fouls in the first three minutes, which allowed Tyler Stewart to come off the bench to the rescue.
Stewart, amid some of his own foul issues, scored 11 points in just 13 minutes.
“Right now he’s playing lights out,” Biggs said. “He’s our sixth man.”
Greenup County (0-6) handled Ashland’s pressure much better in the third quarter, but the game was too far out of reach. Tackett said it all fell apart in the second.
“I showed them on the shot chart at halftime. We attacked the basket (in the first), and in the second quarter we stopped,” Tackett said. “We’re not going to out-finesse anybody this year. The only way we’re going to be competitive is if we attack the basketball.”
Robbie Dillon led the Musketeers with 15 points. Jeremiah Berry racked up 10 points and 11 boards.
Justin Bond, Jair Jackson and Jeremy Brewer, each projected to be starters before the season, are all battling injuries. Bond (sprained wrist) is set to return Friday. Jackson (cracked cheekbone) is slated to come back next week. Brewer (high ankle sprain) will miss another one or two weeks.
Logan Salow (foot) made his first appearance for Ashland. The senior played nearly 10 minutes.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.