(This is a computer simulation of the 2020 Kentucky High School Athletic Association Boys Sweet Sixteen that is not officially cancelled but not likely to happen. All game results are from the computer but the quotes are on me.)
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Undefeated Ashland came into the 2020 Boys Sweet Sixteen with a lot still to prove and a target on its collective back.
The 33-0 Tomcats are seeking to become the first unbeaten champion in 72 years. Elizabethtown, which plays the same 3-for-all style of game as Ashland, came into the tournament with a design on sending them home early.
Ashland, like it has done to every other opponent, would have none of that and defeated the Panthers 74-69 in a game where the Tomcats never trailed.
Even with freshman point guard Colin Porter in early foul trouble, the Tomcats never blinked. Hunter Gillum filled in adequately for Porter and sophomores Cole Villers and Ethan Sellars put on a show.
Villers scored 29 points and collected 11 rebounds and Sellars scored 18 to push the Tomcats into the quarterfinals, matching what they did in 2019.
Ashland assistant coach Ryan Bonner provided a strong scouting report for coach Jason Mays in keeping the high-scoring Panthers in check. The Tomcats’ interior defense was especially effective with E-Town making only 12 of 44 two-point attempts. Even though the Panthers were deadly from the perimeter as advertised, making 11 of 24 3-pointers, Ashland was able to hold them in check.
The Tomcats and Panthers gave the fans in Rupp Arena what they wanted, hitting three 3-pointers in the first minute of the game. Treys from Villers and Sellars put Ashland ahead 6-3.
Alandre Murphy scored on a putback to pull E-Town with 8-7 before the Tomcats went on a 10-1 run to make it 18-8. Ashland led 23-11 after the first quarter. The Panthers came fighting back and trailed 34-33 when Gillum lowered his head and drove in for a layup.
Sellars started the second half with a long 3-pointer for a 39-33 advantage and that swelled to 58-46 going into the fourth quarter. E-Town again came roaring back, scoring six in a row to make it 65-59, but Ethan Hudson, who scored 13, buried a corner three with three minutes to play to the delight of Ashland’s excited fans.
“That was a big bucket from Huddy,” Mays said afterward. “Our guys came out focused and ready. They found a way to win even after Colin got in foul trouble. Nobody panicked. It was next man up and that man was Hunter. But I’m not sure how much more I can take of having Colin sitting next to me. Between him and Villers, nobody else could get in a word in edge-wise during timeouts.”
Even though the Tomcats were only 11 of 29 from 3-point range, they made sure the hot hand got the ball. That was Villers, who was 7-of-16 from the field and 10 of 13 on free throws.
“They knew who to get the ball to today,” Mays said. “Give credit to coach Bonner for a great scouting report. E-Town is a great basketball team but he found a few things we could take advantage of against them. Our guys were prepared.”
Villers thanked his teammates for getting him the ball. “Today was my game, tomorrow it will be somebody else. That’s how we roll. When that first one went down, it was like the basket tripled in size,” he said. “I was begging for it and they kept finding me.”
Ashland’s Justin Bradley limited high-scoring Jaquais Franklin to 12 points on 3-for-10 shooting. Camden Williams led the Panthers with 21 points.
Madisonville-North Hopkins crushed Warren Central 75-61 in the first game and plays Ashland in the quarterfinals.
Ashland sold out of its ticket allotment, filling their end zone with maroon-and-white as part of 18,712 who watched the afternoon session.
Athletic director Mark Swift expected them to be hot items for the next round too, but said he’d have them on sale at the school for as long as they last. Super fan Donna Suttle was handing out Tomcat “fans” to anybody who would take them. “I LOVE THIS TEAM!” she kept saying over and over.
‘The Voice’ speaks
Dicky Martin, the longtime radio voice of the Tomcats, was strutting going into the postgame press conference. “I told you we’d win, by gawd! There’s not a better team in this tournament. We’re going to take it all! Thirty-seven-and-zero baby!”
Here are the scores from the first round:
VIRTUAL SWEET 16
Madisonville-North Hopkins 75, Warren Central 61
Ashland 74, Elizabethtown 69
Scott County 77, Knox Central 54
George Rogers Clark 86, McCracken County 70
Fern Creek 89, Hazard 66
Owensboro Catholic 61, Martin County 52
Male 75, Collins 56
Covington Catholic 62, West Jessamine 50
Madisonville-North Hopkins vs. Ashland
Scott County vs. George Rogers Clark
Fern Creek vs. Owensboro Catholic
Male vs. Covington Catholic
ASHLAND (74) – Porter 2-5 0-1 4, Hudson 4-10 2-2 13, Sellars 6-10 4-4 18, Bradley 1-5 1-2 4, Villers 7-16 10-13 29, Gillum 3-3 0-0 6, Phillips 0-1 0-0 0, Adkins 0-0 0-0 0, Atkins 0-0 0-0 0, Conway 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 23-54. FT: 17-23 74. 3-pointers: 11-29 (Porter 0-3, Hudson 3-7, Sellars 2-4, Bradley 1-2, Villers 5-11, Gillum 0-2). Rebounds: 35 (Porter 5, Hudson 4, Sellars 7, Bradley 4, Villers 11, Gillum 2, Atkins 1, Conway 1). PF: 16. Turnovers: 13. Assists: 10 (Porter 2, Hudson 3, Sellars 3, Villers 1, Phillips 1).
ELIZABETHTOWN (69) – Franklin 3-10 6-6 12, Williams 6-17 3-4 21, Kh. Sherrard 3-10 0-0 9, Fields 3-6 1-2 8, Murphy 2-7 1-1 5, Moberly 3-9 0-0 7, Ka. Sherrard 2-6 0-0 4, Pinkham 0-1 0-0 0, Bowen 1-1 1-2 3, Fiepke 0-1 0-0 0. FG: 23-68. FT: 12-15. 3-pointers: 11-24 (Williams 6-11, Kh. Sherrard 3-8, Fields 1-1, Moberly 1-4). Rebounds: 36 (Franklin 4, Williams 8, Kh. Sherrard 3, Fields 10, Murphy 1, Moberly 2, Ka. Sherrard 2, Pinkham 3, Bowen 3). PF: 19. Turnovers: 8. Assists: 13 (Williams 3, Kh. Sherrard 2, Fields 3, Moberly 2, Ka. Sherrard 1, Pinkham 1, Bowen 1).
ASHLAND 23 13 24 14 – 74
E-TOWN 11 22 13 23 – 69