By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Zac Baxter was in the zone Saturday night.
The South Laurel sophomore scored 31 points, including hitting nine three-pointers, as the Cardinals won their second straight game with an 82-71 win over the Barbourville Tigers.
“I think all the preaching we did to Zac early on paid off,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. “Tonight he played under control and was fluid in his shot. When he tries to force things that’s when he gets in trouble.”
The Cards (9-11) were coming off an emotional 77-75 double overtime win over district rival Corbin four nights earlier. Sometimes a team can have a letdown following such a huge game. Davis was pleased his team didn’t.
“This was a big win from the standpoint we came out and were focused,” Davis said. “For the most part we didn’t have one of those big gaps in scoring.”
South opened the game with eight three pointers in the first quarter to set the tone early and lead after one, 28-15. Baxter hit four in a row, while Matt Slavey added three and Zack Jones, one.
Meanwhile, Jason Mills was doing his best to keep Barbourville (12-9) in the game, scoring 10 of his team’s 15 points. He would finish with 16.
Coming into the game, Davis said he knew his team would have to try and contain the three-point shooting of Alexander Phipps, one of the region’s top three-point shooters. And they did just that, holding him to just two threes and nine points.
“We didn’t want to give Phipps a chance to look at a three,” Davis said.
The Tigers made a 10-0 run at South midway through the second quarter to whittle an 11-point lead down and take a one point lead, 33-32, when Devon Mills scored with 3:10 left. Mills led Barbourville with 22 points.
An offensive rebound and putback by Austin Schaser ended the run. Slavey then drove on Zack Strong, scored and drew the foul. When he sank his free throw South was back on top by four, 37-33.
A three by Phipps, his second of the quarter, brought the Tigers back within one, 37-36. South led at the half, 39-38.
After a quiet second quarter, Baxter picked it back up in the third, scoring South’s first 11 points, nine off threes, and with 5:17 left, the Cards were up by eight, 50-42.
Another Baxter three, this time with 3:24 left, keyed a 12-5 run to end the quarter and give South a 65-52 lead. Brennan Miller ended the run with a three at the buzzer.
The lead grew to 70-55 with 5:20 left before Barbourville made one last run at the Cards, cutting the lead to six, 71-65, at the 2:05 mark. The Cards would seal the game at the free throw line, hitting 8-of-12 over the final two minutes for the 82-71 win.
For the game, South hit 16-of-22 from the charity stripe (72 percent) and 25-of-56 from the field for 44.6 percent. Barbourville was 17-of-30 from the free throw line for 56 percent and 24-of-57 from the field for 42.1 percent. The difference in the game was South’s three-point shooting. The Cards did most of their damage from beyond the arc, scoring 42 points compared to just 12 for the Tigers. Barbourville scored 42 of its 71 points from inside the paint.
“We did a good job of taking away the three,” Davis said.
Slavey finished with 16 and Schaser, 10. Strong had 12 for Barbourville.
“Barbourville played really well,” Davis said. “They are a surprise team in the region. They are hard to play because so many of them can handle the ball.”
Davis was pleased with the way his team shot the ball.
“We’ve been shooting the ball quite a bit lately,” Davis said. “Early in the season we rushed our shots. Tonight we made that extra pass which helps our shooting percentage. Having Blake (Sanders) back helps Slavey, Baxter, Jones and all the other guys.” The Cards have broken the 70-point mark in their last three games. The only other time they did that this season was during a 76-52 win over Buckhorn on Dec. 12 during the Peoples Bank Classic at Madison Southern.
The Cards played host to George Rogers Clark Tuesday night, then will travel to take on North Laurel on Friday before returning home to host Williamsburg Saturday night.
South Laurel 82, Barbourville 71
Barbourville 15 23 14 19—71
South Laurel 28 11 26 17—82
BARBOURVILLE (71)—D. Mills 22, Strong 12, Phipps 9, J. Mills 16, Moore 7, Engle 2, Perry 3.
SOUTH LAUREL (82)—Slavey 16, Sanders 6, Baxter 31, Schaser 10, Miller 8, Vandeventer 2, Jones 8, Helton 1.