By Kyle Hobstetter
CNHI News Service
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
ASHLAND — Russell completed its fine showing in the Ashland Invitational Tournament with a 74-59 throttling of South Laurel in the tournament’s third-place game.
The Red Devils went 2-1 over the course of three days, beating both South Laurel and West Jessamine. They lost to eventual champion Newport Central Catholic on Friday.
On Saturday, Kyle Skaggs continued his high-scoring ways with a 30-point effort.
Fellow senior Lance Evans turned in a 15-point, seven-rebound performance that included a 6-for-6 shooting clip from the floor.
Googie Hayes and Jacob Porter also managed to crack into double digits with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Russell (10-4) was 22 of 29 from the free-throw line compared to South Laurel’s 4-of-10 effort from the foul line. The Cardinals fell to 4-8 on the season.
Zac Baxter led South with 25 points, while Matthew Slavey tossed in 16.
The Cardinals will host North Laurel Friday.
Ashland 69, South Laurel 51
For the second straight game Ashland held its opponent to under 40 percent shooting. Now it’s playing in the Ashland Invitational Tournament Championship game for the 30th time.
Ashland held South Laurel to just 35.5 percent shooting in the game on its way to 69-51 victory in the AIT semifinal game Friday night at James A. Anderson gym.
After holding Sheldon Clark to 39.9 percent in the opening round on Thursday, Tomcats coach Buddy Biggs is starting to see the defensive pressure come around to where he wants it.
“That’s something we’ve been emphasizing,” Biggs said. “That’s something we’ve been trying to get better at over the course of the season. I thought tonight, I was very pleased with our defensive intensity.”
In the first half South Laurel shot above 25 percent from the floor, going 8-of-31.
For South Laurel coach and Fairview graduate, Jeff Davis, it seemed like every time his team took a shot Ashland was there to pressure it.
“(Ashland) is long and they play so hard,” Davis said. “They guarded well tonight and every shot it seemed like we were contested or we had to hurry to get it up.”
South Laurel also had trouble with Ashland’s 1-3-1 trap defense in the first half. The Tomcats had five steals coming from the defense, all of which led to baskets.
At the top of the 1-3-1 was 6-foot-4 forward Steven Friley or 6-6 forward Dikembe Dixson. One steal by Dixson even resulted in a one-handed dunk on the Tomcats’ end.
“We practiced on (Ashland’s 1-3-1) for three days,” Davis said. “To be honest with you we had some kids who played scared. You can’t get in a moment like this, with a team that puts that much pressure on you, you can’t get scared.”
South Laurel (4-7) was led by sophomore guard Zac Baxter, who had 13 points, 10 coming in the second half.
Heading into the third quarter, Ashland held a 14-point lead and looked ready to coast to the championship game.
Three minutes, and four Ashland turnovers later, South Laurel cut the lead down to nine and forced the Tomcats to use a timeout to regroup.
Ashland (9-2) went on a six-point run to push the lead back out to 15.
“I felt we we’re getting lax,” Biggs said. “They went to their press, and we threw it away four-straight times. We knew they had the press in the arsenal, I think it just surprised us when they pulled it out. We we’re just sloppy with the ball, so we had to make corrections.”
After the third quarter run, South Laurel wouldn’t come close again. The Tomcats put the game out of reach, opening up the fourth quarter on a 18-4 run in the first five minutes.
On the Ashland offensive end, the Tomcats were led by sophomore forward Nick Miller, who scored 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Miller also went 2-for-3 from 3-point range and had five points from the free-throw line.
After reaching a season-high in points on Thursday, Logan Salow followed it up with 12 points on Friday, including a 3-for-4 effort from the 3-point line.
Dikembe Dixson and Tyler Stewart both added 10 points coming off the bench.
Ashland Invitational Tournament
Russell 74, South Laurel 59
South Laurel 19 14 13 13—59
Russell 20 9 20 25—74
South Laurel (59)—T. Grubb 5, Rader 3, Baxter 25, Slavey 16, Schaser 2, Miller 2, J. Grubb 6, Jones.
Russell (74)—Estep 5, Hayes 11, Evans 15, Porter 10, Skaggs 30, D. Campbell 2, McGuire 1, Lane, Mullins, Kennedy, Tackett, B. Campbell, Heyerly, Miller, McKnight.
Ashland 62, South Laurel 51
South Laurel 11 9 19 12—51
Ashland 19 15 16 19—62
SOUTH LAUREL (51)—Miller 2, Rader 5, Baxter 13, Slavey 11, T. Grubb 4, Anders 2, Jones 2, Vandeventer 4, J. Grubb 6, Helton 2.
ASHLAND (62)—Thompson 1, Salow 12, Friley 6, Hart 2, Miller 23, Stewart 10, Dixson 10, Wesley 5.