Sophomore Dikembe Dixson's debut in the Boys 16th Region Tournament produced rave reviews.
Dixson rarely missed while dropping in 24 points and also swatted away six shots as Ashland beat West Carter 63-48 in the tournament opener Tuesday night at Johnson Arena. The Tomcats will make their seventh consecutive tournament semifinal appearance.
“I felt good out there,” Dixson said after his dominant performance on Morehead State University's floor. “The only other time I played here was during the summer.”
West Carter didn't have anybody taller than 6-foot-2 to contest the 6-6 Dixson, who was 9-for-11 from close range and made all six of his free throws. He came in shooting 59 percent from the field.
“He's a difficult matchup for us because of his size and length,” said Comets coach Jeremy Webb, whose team surrendered 30 points to Dixson two weeks ago in Ashland's 63-50 win. “It's not just his offense but the way he protects the rim. Our guys were trying to alter their shots and we had a hard time putting the ball in the basket.”
West Carter led 12-11 after Dustin Black buried a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
But the Comets quickly went stone cold, going 0-for-14 in the second period. They trailed by 11 points at the half and couldn't get closer than eight the rest of the way.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half finding (Kyle) Brown and (Jacob) Layne defensively,” Ashland coach Buddy Biggs said. “It was nice to get this one out of the way. A lot of our kids have not played in this type environment, with these kind of stakes.”
Ashland, coming off its 57th all-time district title, improved to 23-9 and will meet Fleming County in the semifinals Thursday at 6 p.m.
The Tomcats have shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of their three postseason games. They went 13-for-19 in the second half Tuesday to make it 11 wins in the last 12 games.
“West Carter isn't the biggest team inside, so we tried to exploit that,” Ashland guard Logan Salow said. “Dikembe did a good job getting open and being patient.”
Dixson's big night pushed him over the 600-point mark this season, only the 15th time it has happened in Tomcat history.
The team's other sophomore starter, 6-3 forward Nick Miller, supplied 11 points and seven rebounds as Ashland posted a 41-24 advantage on the boards.
“They are special,” Salow said of the sophomore duo. “They are key right now in getting us to this point, and hopefully further.”
Dixson was surprised to learn that he blocked a half-dozen shots.
“I didn't know I had that many,” he said. “Coach said to swat everything if I was not in foul trouble.”
Dixson made three rejections in the first half before sitting out the last 4:45 after picking up his second foul.
Salow, a senior guard and catalyst during the Tomcats' stretch run, finished with 10 points and four assists. Salow made a nice feed to Dixson for a layup to start the second half, then splashed his second 3-pointer of the night.
Ashland took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter and built the margin to as much as 20 inside the final minute.
Junior Steven Friley gave the Tomcats another lift off the bench with nine points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
“Ashland's a very good team,” Webb said. “You can't go 7:48 without a point in the second quarter and expect to beat that kind of team. Defensively, they extended out during that time and took away some of our open looks.”
West Carter (9-20) connected on only 14 percent of its shot attempts in the first half.
Brown, the Comets' career scoring leader with many school records, struggled offensively from the start. He shot 2-for-16, with both baskets coming in the second half. Black, the team's other senior, scored 13 points.
“Kyle and Dustin both have meant everything to our program on and off the court,” Webb said. “Both probably didn't have the game they wanted tonight, but looking at the body of work these two had very successful careers.”
Layne led the Comets with 14 points, including two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter before Ashland pulled away. The Tomcats made 12 of their 17 turnovers in the first half to help West Carter hang around despite its shooting woes.
Tickets on sale
Tickets for both the Ashland boys semifinal game and Ashland girls first-round game will be on sale today at 1 p.m. at Ashland Blazer High School.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.