A tall order: 77 Tomcats edge 1980 Tomcats in titan tilt

ASHLAND, Ky. – The 1977 and 1980 Ashland teams – both loaded with size and talent – met Sunday night in a giant-sized battle of the titans at Anderson gym.

Lanky Jim Harkins swooped to the basket with only three seconds remaining, where he met 6-9 Jeff Tipton and 6-3 Greg McCauley near the rim, but somehow managed to power in the game-winning basket in a 69-68 victory for the 1977 Tomcats that was tight from buzzer to buzzer.

Harkins’ last basket was part of a 22-point performance and was the last of a 17 lead changes. The game was also tied on 10 occasions as the teams, both big and physical, battled hard for 32 minutes.

The 1980 team, which featured a front line of 6-9, 6-7 and 6-4, built a 27-19 lead five minutes before halftime. But the 77 Tomcats fought back and actually led 34-32 at the half after going on a 15=5 run to n the first half. Playmaker Greg Swift, who had eight points and five assists, triggered the run that kept them in the game.

Coach Paul Patterson during his coaching days at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., after Ashland.

The 77 Cats kept the lead until McCauley sank a jumper from the corner to make it 49-48 and the teams exchange leads nine more times, the last one coming on Harkins’ basket. But before that one, Doug Smith drilled a shot from just inside the 3-point line to put the 80 Tomcats in front 68-67.

“I tell you what, both of these teams would look good going through the airport,” said 1980 Tomcat coach Ernie Simpson. “It was a great game and an incredible fourth quarter. Every point was contested all the way to the end. I don’t know how Harkins was able to get through Jeff and Greg. That was an incredible play.”

Neither team took advantage of the 3-point shot with only five total attempts being taken.

“Who needs the 3-point shot?” asked 77 coach Paul Patterson. “We drill our guys on taking the high-percentage shot. They know it and they did it well tonight. Greg Swift may have been our MVP. He found a way to get it into the hands of the right guys.”

Mark Swift had 11 points, five assists and four rebounds while Dale Dummit scored 10 points with four rebounds.

As for the last-second play, Harkins said it was reaction only. “I saw the opening for a split second and went to the basket,” he said. “Tip and Greg were waiting on me and I was able to somehow get between them. It wasn’t anything I really planned out, I just reacted to the situation as best I could. I’m lucky they didn’t knock it back down my throat.”

“Harkins and Kovach are two of the best players I’ve ever coached against,” Simpson said. “Those guys are skilled, strong and athletic. They obviously were a big difference in this game.”

Smith scored 19 and Tipton collected 13 points and five rebounds. Dirk Anders, the 6-7 forward, had six points and a game-high 10 rebounds. John Anderson collected 11 points and six assists.

Real life                                                                               –

1980 Ashland finished 22-11 and won the 16th Region title – giving the Tomcats their fifth in a row – and then reached the quarterfinals where they lost an epic double-overtime game against Covington Holmes, 97-92, with Jeff Tipton scoring 41 points. Holmes, led by Dicky Beal, had beaten Ashland 100-78 in the regular season.

1977 Ashland had a 30-2 record and reached the final four of the Sweet 16 where the Tomcats fell to Louisville Valley. It is considered one of Ashland’s greatest teams and was one of four regional championships for coach Paul Patterson, who never lost a game against a regional opponent in four seasons.

1980 ASHLAND (68) – Anderson 5-9 1-2 11, McCauley 5-8 2-3 12, Anders 3-9 0-0 6, Tipton 4-12 5-7 13, Smith 9-16 1-2 19, McWhorter 1-2 1-2 4, Haller 1-3 0-0 2, Crank 0-0 2-2 2. FG: 28-62. FT: 12-18. 3FG: 0-4 (McCauley 0-3, Anderson 0-1). Rebounds: 26 (Anderson 2, McCauley 2, Anders 10, Tipton 5, Smith 4, McWhorter 2, Crank 1). Assists: 12 (Anderson 6, McCauley 2, Tipton 3, Crank 1). PF: 17. Turnovers: 15.

1977 ASHLAND (69) – G.Swift 3-8 2-3 8, M.Swift 5-9 1-2 11, Dummit 4-7 2-2 10, Kovach 7-16 2-2 16, Harkins 8-12 6-9 22, Allen 0-1 0-0 0, Welch 0-1 0-0 0, Henderson 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 1-3 0-0 2. FG: 28-57. FT: 13-18. 3FG: 0-1 (M.Swift 0-1). Rebounds: 33 (G.Swift 2, M.Swift 4, Dummit 4, Kovach 11, Harkins 6, Welch 3, Henderson 1). Assists: 15 (G.Swift 5, M.Swift 5, Kovach 1, Allen 3, Henderson 1). PF: 22. Turnovers: 21.

1980 ASHLAND        14        18        19        17            –           68

1977 ASHLAND        16        18        16        19            –           69


By Mark Maynard

Managing editor of Kentucky Today, the digital newspaper of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, since July 2017. Worked 42 years for The Daily Independent in Ashland, Kentucky, the last 12 as managing editor and editor and the previous 30 before that in the sports department, including 17 years as sports editor. I have been in the business since 1975 with more than 75 writing awards from the Kentucky Press Association. I have also have written eight books, used to run fast but now look more like I have a piano on my back. President of Amy For Africa, a faith-based Christian ministry serving Uganda. I'm a husband to Beth and father to Stephen and Sally, grandfather to Brooks and human to Opie!

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