ASHLAND Johnson Central coach Tommy McKenzie might have been scoping out the nearest exit after watching his Golden Eagles fall behind to Ashland 13-0 in the first two minutes Monday night.
Ashland hit back-to-back-to-back trifectas by Ethan Sellars, Cole Villers and Sellars again for a 9-0 edge that forced a Johnson Central timeout. Before the Golden Eagles could find the scoreboard, Sellars and Villers had scored again.
“I can go back to 2019 when we got to the state tournament and we were playing Trinity and we were just getting our brains beat in,” McKenzie said of the early Ashland run. “I turned around and looked and there’s nowhere for me to sit down, so I told the guys, here I am with nowhere to sit, nowhere to hide and that’s kinda how I felt here to start this game tonight.”
However, 13 proved to not be enough for Ashland as Johnson Central erased the double-digit deficit after a Ryleh McKenzie triple gave the Golden Eagles their first lead of the night at 35-34 early in the second half.
But the Tomcats were too strong down the stretch, led by Colin Porter’s game-high 20 points, as Ashland handed Johnson Central (3-1) its first loss of the season, 67-59 at Anderson Gymnasium.
“We started off hot and that’s the first time we’ve done that all year,” Porter said. “We will go back and watch film and find out how we can start hot and stay hot and build on that momentum.”
Eleven of Porter’s points came in the fourth quarter while going 7 of 9 from the charity stripe.
“In the fourth quarter when a team has to start pressuring me, that allows me to have more space,” Porter said. "That’s what we are trying to find in our offense right now. With time and practice, it will come.”
Ashland coach Jason Mays saw flashes of the Tomcats of old.
“We got a little bit of our mojo back to start this game,” Mays said. “Here’s what's interesting, we started this game with seven straight stops, hit three 3s and we are playing up and down. Had a good pace to it. Then we ended the first half where eight of their last nine possessions, they scored and tied it and we lost our mojo.”
Ashland led 32-30 at the break and faced its largest deficit of the night at 42-37 after John King followed an Isaiah May missed 3 for the stickback.
“I knew our kids would respond,” McKenzie said. “I didn’t know how, to be honest with you, but I knew they would. We just don’t have the type of kids who lay down. They played a hard game and gave themselves a chance to win. I’m proud of that effort.”
Mays said a halftime heart-to-heart allowed the Tomcats to refocus in the break.
“I literally pulled a chair up in the middle of the floor to talk to them like I was having a fire-side chat with them at halftime,” he said. “I said, you are frustrated about offense and if you want to score points, you have to get more hands on balls defensively and we have to get more stops. We were much better defensively in the second half and that’s where we found our offensive rhythm."
Ashland (3-2) responded with a 6-0 run on back-to-back 3s from Villers and Zander Carter as the game was knotted at 44-44 through three. King pushed the visitors back in front, 48-46, but a Villers jumper gave the Tomcats the lead for good with 6:46 to play.
Ashland outscored Johnson Central 19-9 the rest of the way while holding King to six points in the second half after pouring in 13 in the first.
“What has to happen in those situations is you have to have other guys around him to make some shots or to get some buckets to help take that glove off of John like they had on him in the second half,” McKenzie said. “We knew it was going to be a little bit tougher. We tried to get him going early but just for whatever reason, we just weren’t able to do that.”
Porter complimented King's effort.
“John King just works his butt off on every possession,” Porter said. “It’s so hard to contain him because even when we think we have him, he just keeps on going.”
King finished with a double-double, netting 19 points and grabbing 11 boards.
Each quarter featured a different Ashland player standing in the spotlight. Sellars had 12 points in the first half. Villers added eight in the second half after scoring five in the first. Hunter Gillum and Ryan Atkins combined for 11 points and five rebounds off the bench and the final stanza was signed, sealed and delivered by Porter.
“There are certain spots in a ball game that Ashland is just so good,” McKenzie said. “It’s when you take them out of their sets, the things that they like to run, they know how to play and that’s a growth area for us. We have to get to the point where if a team takes option A away from us, or maybe even option B, that we’re mature enough to go to option C and D and tonight we weren’t able to do that.”
Mays said Porter did a good job of letting the game come to him rather than forcing the issue.
“Tonight, he was making the right play at the right time,” Mays said of the sophomore. “When he’s just playing and has a flow, we’re a better team and his offense seems to come easier. That’s something that came tonight that we’ve been missing. I had been pressing on him and he had been pressing on himself and tonight, he just played more relaxed. Especially in the second half.”
FG Pct.: 46.0. FT Pct.: 58.3. 3-pointers: 6-15(VanHoose 2-4, Rice 0-2, Lemaster 2-3, McKenzie 1-2, May 1-4). PF: 18. Fouled out: King. Turnovers: 11.
FG Pct.: 47.9. FT Pct.: 38.1. 3-pointers: 8-21(Carter 1-4, Porter 1-2, Sellars 2-5, Villers 3-8, Gillum 1-2). PF: 13. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 7.
J. CENTRAL 11191415 —59
ASHLAND 19131223 —67
Officials: Dave Anderson, Joe Coldiron, Gavin Ramsey