MOREHEAD Elliott County's done it so many times, it's basically patented by the boys from Sandy Hook: the run fueled by defensive pressure, stark in its efficiency, poetic in its beauty and typically devastating to the team on the business end.
Not Ashland. Not Friday.
The Tomcats, down 19 points on two occasions in the second quarter and behind by 17 at halftime of the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, mustered the poise usually associated with the Lions to outscore Elliott County 23-14 in the fourth quarter.
The Tomcats forced overtime on Justin Bradley's bucket with 20 seconds to go in regulation and scored five straight points down the stretch of the extra session to stun the Lions, 69-65, at Johnson Arena.
In so doing, Ashland engineered the largest second-half comeback to win in 16th Region Tournament history and handed heavy region favorite Elliott County its first defeat in 21 games against 16th Region opposition this season.
"We just stayed positive in the locker room," Tomcats junior Ethan Hudson said. "A lot of teams would get pretty down right there, but we've got great leadership in the locker room on the team and through the coaches, so we stayed as positive as we could."
Hudson helped, too. He pitched in a team-high 21 points, including Ashland's last six of the first half which kept it from becoming an unmitigated disaster for the Tomcats as Elliott County applied pressure and converted it into transition offense.
"We needed a spark," Hudson said, "and I just tried to come out and give that to us."
By the time the Lions' Korbin Spencer spun for an and-1 with 3:41 to go in the second quarter, Elliott County led by 19 points.
That gave Spencer 22 points, and his transition slam two and a half minutes later upped it to 24 at intermission.
Then Ashland held Spencer to seven points for the remaining two quarters and overtime.
"We just ran guys at him," Tomcats coach Jason Mays said. "He was getting a 60-foot run-and-go at us, and we had to break that rhythm up. And then when he shot it, we had to make sure we got the rebound on a miss."
Ashland succeeded, outrebounding Elliott County 38-26 for the game. Devaunte Robinson led the way with 10 rebounds to go along with 16 points. He converted five of the last six free throws he shot.
"He may not have been the best player for the game," Mays said of Robinson, "but by golly, he was the best player in the second half."
Down nine after the third quarter, the Tomcats (16-16) assembled a 17-3 run over the first three and a half minutes of the fourth frame to energize their cheering section. Ethan Sellars drove for an and-1 with 4:23 to play to put Ashland up, 49-44.
Elliott County collected itself and scored 11 of the next 13 points to go back ahead by four on Kole Whitley's drive with 1:22 remaining. But Sellars made two foul shots at :34 and Bradley took Robinson's feed and scored his first bucket of the game with 20 seconds remaining.
"I know that he's gonna give you open shots," Bradley said of Robinson, "and they're gonna have to double-team him, because if not, then he's gonna score. So I knew I was gonna have a chance and I just had to finish it."
He did, and Elliott County missed a 3-pointer at the other end, forcing overtime.
With Ashland down 61-60 with 1:48 to go, Bradley found himself open from 3-point range. He nailed it, and the Tomcats led the rest of the way.
"He doesn't let negativity sit on him for very long," Mays said of Bradley. "It just bounces off of him, and he's a happy-go-lucky kid, but he's also a very tough kid. He's probably one of our best competitors."
Sellars scored 18 points for Ashland.
Elliott County (25-4) got 31 points from Spencer and 12 from Gage Evans. The Lions didn't exactly shoot poorly as a team -- 46.3 percent -- but made only three of 10 field goals in the third quarter after hitting eight of 12 in the second.
"(Ashland was) really up in Korbin," Elliott County coach Greg Adkins said, "but at the same time, there were a lot of lanes to the basket. ... I thought we did a great job of attacking the basket; we just didn't get the ball to go down."
The Lions, who aimed to represent the 16th Region at Rupp Arena for the fourth time in five years, instead see the end of a career of a decorated five-man senior class.
"Anytime the season ends, it hurts," Adkins said. "We hurt for our seniors. I hurt for all my kids. But you know, at the end of the day, it was a solid season. Our guys came out and did a lot of really special things, not just this season but over the course of our seniors' careers. They played in the state tournament multiple times; they've won multiple regions, multiple districts, multiple All 'A's.
"My message to them is, they've left a huge mark on Elliott County basketball. Nothing to hang their heads about. We just came up a little short on the scoreboard."
The largest previous halftime deficit overcome to win a 16th Region Tournament game was 14 points, which Boyd County erased to top Greenup County in the 1999 semifinals.
The Tomcats advance to the region final, where archnemesis Boyd County awaits. The city-county rivals have split their first four meetings of the season at two apiece. The Lions knocked off Ashland in last year's region final.
"We're just trying to bring back the tradition of getting to the regional championship every year and trying to win some," Hudson said. "That's what we've been working for for the last 365 days."
Tickets for the region tournament finals on Sunday will be on sale today from 10 a.m.-noon at Ashland Blazer.
(606) 326-2658 |
ASHLAND FG FT REB TP
Sellars 5-9 7-9 8 18
Villers 1-8 0-0 5 3
Bradley 2-4 0-2 5 5
Hudson 9-16 1-1 3 21
Robinson 4-8 7-10 10 16
Atkins 0-0 0-0 1 1
Mays 2-7 0-0 2 6
Gillum 0-0 0-0 2 6
TOTAL 23-52 15-22 38 69
FG Pct.: 44.2. FT Pct.: 68.2. 3-pointers: 8-26 (Sellars 1-4, Villers 1-6, Bradley 1-3, Hudson 2-5, Robinson 1-2, Mays 2-6). PF: 17. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 12.
ELLIOTT CO. FG FT REB TP
Spencer 12-25 6-10 7 31
Evans 5-9 2-4 4 12
T. Dickerson 3-8 0-0 8 8
K. Whitley 2-5 2-2 3 6
B. Dickerson 2-3 0-0 3 4
Porter 1-4 2-2 0 4
TOTAL 25-54 12-18 26 65
FG Pct.: 46.3. FT Pct.: 66.7. 3-pointers: 3-14 (Spencer 1-6, Evans 0-4, T. Dickerson 2-3, B. Dickerson 0-1). PF: 17. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 7.
ASHLAND 7 8 17 23 14 -- 69
ELLIOTT CO. 11 21 9 14 10 -- 65
Officials: Shawn Hall, Mike Hall and Roger Fairchild.