The opening week of this boys basketball season featured a highly anticipated matchup between Boyd County and Russell on Nov. 30.
On Wednesday, one of those teams will be playing its last game.
The Red Devils and Lions will tangle in what figures to be a must-see opening-round matchup in this week’s 16th Region Tournament at Morehead State’s Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
The following is the first-round schedule: Ashland-West Carter, Tuesday at 6 p.m.; Fleming County-Lewis County, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.; Russell-Boyd County, Wednesday at 6 p.m.; and Morgan County-Rowan County, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The semifinals are set for Thursday at 6 and 7:30 p.m. The championship game will tip off on Friday at 7 p.m.
A pair of 20-game winners, Russell and Boyd County played to a 68-62 Red Devil win in the teams’ first game. In the second meeting, Boyd County blitzed the Devils, 79-59.
Boyd County (21-11) has won 11 of its last 13 games. The Lions accomplished their first 20-win season since 1999-2000.
Russell (25-7) achieved its highest win total since 2007 and earned its first 63rd District crown since that season.
Led by region top scorer Kyle Skaggs (24.9 PPG), the Red Devils are looking to break through to the region semifinals for the first time since ’07.
“One advantage we have going into Morehead is, who do you key on?” said Russell coach Merle Kidwell following Friday’s defeat of Lewis County. “We feel like we can put five guys on the floor that can score.”
Boyd County coach Randy Anderson is equally confident in his group, one that seems to play better when they are able to spread the floor. Anderson hopes the Lions can thrive by doing just that on the college surface.
“We’re hoping that will be an advantage,” Anderson said. “We’ve done that the last 14 or 15 ball games. We’ve been able to get in gaps and attack the rim.”
Both coaches have expressed how close-knit their teams have become. Russell senior forward Lance Evans said the Red Devils, who include eight total seniors, are “like brothers.” He transferred from Boyd County last spring. Austin Hunt, a Boyd County senior, has said the Lions quickly accepted him as one of their own after transferring from Russell before his junior year.
“I just really believe in this bunch,” said Anderson, just hours after seeing his team fall to Ashland, 67-48, in the 64th District championship.
The Tomcats (22-9), along with 62nd District runner-up West Carter (9-19) will tip off the tournament on Tuesday at 6 p.m. They played one another just 12 days ago, with Ashland emerging a 63-50 victor.
Since switching to primarily a zone defense, Ashland is 10-1 and is giving up 52 points per game. Tomcats coach Buddy Biggs hopes the new defensive look translates to the bigger floor in seamless fashion.
“We need it to continue to work for us,” said Biggs, adding, “We probably are the healthiest we’ve been. We’re clicking, playing good basketball.”
The Comets advanced to the semifinals last season, but return just one player (Kyle Brown) who had significant minutes on that team.
Fleming County (25-6) set a school record with 23 regular season wins. The Panthers also knocked down the door to a district title for the first time in 14 years, taking the 61st District over two-time defending region champion Rowan County.
Next on the wish list is a region title. Fleming County is 0-3 in regional play since joining the 16th Region in 2005-06.
“We’d certainly like to change that around,” said Panthers coach Mark Starns.
Lewis County (15-14) took Fleming County to overtime before falling, 70-61, on Feb. 5.
“They played our socks off,” Starns recalled. “They were the more aggressive team that game.”
After losing three top-tier players, Rowan County (18-13) has a much different look than that of the back-to-back region champions of 2010-11 and ’11-12.
The Vikings meet 62nd District champion Morgan County (22-7) in Wednesday’s nightcap. The Cougars, who won the regular season meeting by three points, are making their first region tournament appearance since 2004-05.
Rowan County coach Shawn Thacker had a message for all involved.
“Don’t count us runner-ups out yet,” Thacker said with a grin. “I think we’ve got a shot. I think our kids feel like we’ve got a shot. We’ve felt that way for a while.”
Christian County, which beat Rowan County in the Sweet Sixteen championship game in 2011, was a district runner-up that season.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.