1996 Tomcats take down 2020 Cats with inside dominance

(This is a computer simulation matching  great Ashland Tomcat teams of the past against each other. All game results are computer-generated but the quotes and enhanced play-by-play are on me.)

ASHLAND, Ky. – It turns out, size does matter.

Ashland’s 1996 state runners-up used their overwhelming size to defeat the 2020 Tomcats, 72-63, on Friday night.

The 96 Tomcats’ length also bothered the 2020 team’s 3-point shooting, limiting them to a dismal 5-for-25 performance. Meanwhile, 6-6 Chris Lynch, 6-7 Kyle Umberger and 6-4 Tony Barrow dominated the paint.

Lynch had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds and Umberger had nine points and 10 rebounds.

Coach Wayne Breeden directs the 96 Tomcats

Coach Wayne Breeden, a master strategist, knew every move the 2020 Tomcats were making.

“I watched video on every game they played since grade school,” said the bleary-eyed coach, who had to wear corrective sunglasses during the game because of watching so much film. “It paid off. Our guys read the scouting reports and followed the game plan to a T.”

Much like they did in upsetting No. 1 Paducah Tilghman in the 1996 Sweet 16, the Tomcats were ready for anything – even this freewheeling 2020 Tomcat team that won by an average of 18 points per game.

“We were ready for them,” Lynch said. “I got tired of hearing about them. It was time for somebody to knock them down a notch.”

The game was tight through three quarters, but each team had a chance to blow it open. The 96 Tomcats trailed 27-16 early in the second quarter but they fought back to draw even at 37 by halftime.

“We had our chances there, had them on the ropes,” said 2020 Tomcat coach Jason Mays. “But we didn’t finish the job and when you let a team like this back into it, look out. They were big and it started wearing us down in the fourth quarter. We played just as hard bur at the end of the day, their big guys had us by five or six inches at every position.”

And the great equalizer – the 3-point shot – was not friendly to the 2020 Tomcats this time.

Tate Tolbert played outstanding out front for the 96 Tomcats with 14 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. He may have been the team’s MVP for the night.

Reserve Chris Estep had a hot hand too with 13 points.

Estep was matched against his nephew, Ethan Sellars, when he was in the game. And the two hustlers went at each other hard. Sellars had 10 points and nine rebounds.

“I thought I was watching the Bobbsey twins,” Breeden said. “Those guys played exactly alike. If I ever got in a street fight, I’d want those guys with me.”

The 96 Tomcats also held a 36-31 rebounding advantage.

The 2020 Tomcats battled hard but managed to get only within four points in the fourth quarter.

“It’s a game we can learn from,” Mays said. “Those guys came close to being state champions and we think that was our destiny too. It didn’t happen, not because of anything these kids did or didn’t do, but circumstances in life.

“I loved matching coaching wits with Coach Breeden. He got me this time but I’ll be ready for the rematch.”

Villers scored 15, Hunter Gillum 11 and Colin Porter collected 10 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Real life

1996 Ashland Tomcats went 27-9 but caught fire late in the season and made it to the state championship game for the school’s first appearance in 34 years. Tomcats lost to Paintsville in the finals.

2020 Ashland Tomcats were 33-0 and didn’t get to play in the Sweet Sixteen because of the coronavirus. They will be remembered as one of the Tomcats’ greatest teams with the perfect record.

1996 ASHLAND (72) – Tolbert 6-9 203 14, Curtis 2-12 3-4 8, Barrow 2-3 0-0 4 5, Umberger 4-7 1-2 9, Lynch 6-11 7-10 19, Strader 1-3 0-0 2, Estep 4-5 5-7 13, Daniels 1-1 0-0 2. FG: 26-51. FT: 18-26. 3-point FG: 2-9 (Tolbert 0-1, Curtis 1-5, Barrow 1-2, Strader 0-1). Rebounds: 36 (Tolbert 7, Barrow 4, Umberger 10, Lynch 10, Strader 2, Daniels 3). Assists: 12 (Tolbert 6, Curtis 1, Lynch 4, Estep 1). PF: 21. Turnovers: 19.

2020 ASHLAND (63) – Porter 4-14 202 10, Bradley 2-4 0-0 6, Villers 5-13 3-3 15, Hudson 1-5 4-6 6, Sellars 5-11 0-0 0-1 10, Phillips 0-3 2-2 2, Gillum 3-8 5-6 11, Adkins 1-2 0-0 3, Conway 0-2 0-0 0. FG: 21-62. FT: 16-19. 3-point FG: 5-25 (Porter 0-7, Bradley 2-3, Villers 2-10, Hudson 0-1, Sellars 0-1, Phillips 0-1, Gillum 1-2). Rebounds: 31 (Porter 5, Villers 4, Hudson 1, Sellars 9, Phillips 5, Gillum 1, Adkins 3, Atkins 3). Assists: 13 (Porter 7, Villers 1, Hudson 1, Gillum 2, Atkins 2). PF: 22. Turnovers: 18.

1996 ASHLAND         14       23       19            16       –           72

2020 ASHLAND          25       12       10            16       –           63

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