(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. – Ashland’s trip to the Sweet Sixteen quarterfinals last year ended with a thud – a 30-point loss to eventual champion Trinity.
Last year, the Tomcats were just happy to be there, but that wasn’t the case this time.
Facing a formidable foe in Madisonville-North Hopkins, the undefeated Tomcats raced out to a 17-point halftime lead and held on for an 81-73 victory that catapulted them to the semifinals for the first time in 24 years.
The 35-0 Tomcats play Scott County, which defeated Georges Rogers Clark 82-78, in the semifinals.
Sophomore Ethan Sellars scored 24 to lead a trio in double figures for Ashland, which shot an efficient 55 percent from the floor.
“We talked about it,” said Ashland coach Jason Mays of last year’s game. “Everybody agreed. We weren’t just happy to be here this year. To a man, they wanted more.”
Mays said he went down the line to every player in the locker room and asked them up close and personal if they were happy to be here. The answer was a resounding “No sir!” with every player. With that, they came back to the Rupp Arena floor a team with a purpose.
The strategy worked. Ashland played like a team with its hair on fire in the first half, especially during an 18-2 run that all but decided the game. Nolan Phillips hit a putback to put the Tomcats into a double-figure lead for the first time at 35-24. Phillips, a senior, came off the bench to score all five of his points during the critical five-minute spurt that put the Tomcats ahead 44-26.
“Nolan gave us the spark we needed,” Mays said. “That up-and-under move was a thing of beauty and he powered that putback in like we’ve been telling him to do all year. When he came to the bench, (assistant) coach (Jim) Conway about knocked him to the floor with a chest bump.”
Sellars was the hot hand, hitting an assortment of medium-range jumpers with Madisonville-North Hopkins intent on taking the drive and the 3-pointers away from Ashland, which was 8-of-19 from 3-point range.
“They were taking away our ability to drive and kick it outside,” Sellars said. “But we have a lot of ways to beat people.”
The sophomore also led Ashland with seven rebounds, including several that came from pure hustle and effort.
“I’ve got some floor burns,” Sellars said, holding an ice bag on his thigh.
“Badges of courage,” added Mays, sitting beside the sophomore on the press podium.
Fellow sophomore Cole Villers scored 17 in a second consecutive strong performance while point guard Colin Porter scored 14 points with three assists. Justin Bradley scored only two, but dished out six assists and played lockdown defense.
“We don’t win without Justin,” Villers said. “It’s that simple.”
Porter, who was in foul trouble for much of the opening game, took five shots and all of them were triples. He made three of those and also hit 5 of 8 free throws for 14 points.
“It was good to have Colin back out there,” Mays said. “He makes everybody better and he did that again today. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Ethan Hudson scored eight points and had three rebounds. Hunter Gillum added four points and four rebounds for the Tomcats.
Madisonville-North Hopkins rallied big in the second half as the Tomcats began to tire. However, Ashland’s lead was never less than six points.
In other action, Scott County used a late flurry to defeat George Rogers Clark, 82-78. The Cardinals made it to the finals last year.
Both Louisville schools, top-ranked Male and Fern Creek, suffered losses in the quarters. Covington Catholic defeated Male 67-60 and Owensboro Catholic surprised Fern Creek 87-82 in what most were saying was the best game of the tournament so far.
The Catholic schools meet in the other semifinal game.
Cameron Davis, younger brother of Tomcat freshman Tristen Davis, swished a halfcourt shot to win a $1,000 scholarship. His heave landed perfectly, barely moving the net, as Tomcat fans – and the rest of the arena – screamed their approval.
Can somebody fix that clog?
Lori Beth Mays, wife of Tomcat coach Jason Mays, was seen clogging in the aisle during the Tomcats’ first game after a nice run. A tournament official saw it and asked her to perform at halftime of the first night session in the quarterfinals.
Ashland fans, including most of the faculty from Ashland Middle School, showed up in mass to cheer her on as she clogged to “Cotton Eyed Joe.” Her husband caught the performance too, hugged her and then went back to the hotel room where the rest of the coaching staff was breaking down film of Scott County.
What did he say?
If you were listening to Tomcat radio voice Dicky Martin and wondered why he seemed to be whispering over the air during the quarterfinal game, it’s because he has a case of laryngitis. It seems he lost his voice from yelling “How ‘bout them Tomcats?” to everyone leaving and entering Rupp Arena after Ashland’s win over Elizabethtown.
Ashland 81, Madisonville-North Hopkins 73
Scott County 82, George Rogers Clark 78
Owensboro Catholic 87, Fern Creek 82
Covington Catholic 67, Male 60
ASHLAND (81) – Bradley 0-1 2-2 2, Porter 3-3 5-8 14, Villers 6-11 4-5 17, Sellars 8-13 6-6 24, Hudson 3-6 0-0 8, Adkins 1-3 1-2 3, Gillum 2-3 0-0 4, Phillips 2-2 1-2 5, Conway 0-1 2-2 2, Davis 0-0 2-2 2, Ashby 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 25-45. FT: 23-29. 3-pointers: 8-19 (Bradley 0-1, Porter 3-5, Villers 1-4, Sellars 2-2, Hudson 2-5, Adkins 0-2). Rebounds: 27 (Bradley 3, Porter 2, Villers 2, Sellars 7, Hudson 3, Adkins 1, Gillum 4, Phillips 2, Davis 3). PF: 14. Assists: 14 (Bradley 6, Porter 3, Hudson 1, Sellars 1, Adkins 2, Gillum 1). Turnovers: 12.
MADISONVILLE-NORTH HOPKINS (73) – White 4-5 4-6 13, Casey 4-8 1-2 12, Johnson 4-12 0-0 11, Stone 6-11 0-0 14, Parker 4-6 1-4 10, Tow 4-6 0-0 8, Vaughn 0-6 0-0 0, Frazier 1-4 0-0 2, Gaines 1-1 1-2 3, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Reynolds 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 28-59. FT: 7-14. 3-pointers: 10-27 (White 1-2, Casey 3-4, Johnson 3-7, Stone 2-6, Parker 1-2, Vaughn 0-4, Frazier 0-2). PF: 21. Assists: 14 (White 3, Casey 1, Johnson 2, Stone 3, Parker 3, Tow 1, Hill 1). Turnovers: 10.
ASHLAND 24 22 19 16 – 81
MAD.-NH 18 11 26 18 – 73