ASHLAND, Ky. – Only a couple of years separated the 1973 and 1975 Ashland Tomcat basketball teams and they met similar disappointing fates in the 16th Region tournament.
So a simulated redemption game between them seemed appropriate.
Both were coached by Steve Gilmore, so a volleyball referee standard was set up behind the scorer’s table at midcourt to allow him to be in control of both sides from a higher perch. It’s a good thing Coach Gilmore’s balance was above par because this game was a head-turner with points coming in rapid fashion from buzzer to buzzer.
They decided before the game to put the 3-pointer in play, which meant even more points. Both teams loved the long distance shot.
Dick Martin Sr. was calling the game until he lost his voice midway through the third quarter and son Dicky took over the play-by-play. The audition led him to take over the job in 1976, but that’s a story for another day.
This one was about a pair of run-and-gun teams who engaged in a catch-me-if-you-can game of basketball much to the delight of a packed house at Anderson gym who showed how much they appreciated these exciting teams.
“One good thing about it,” Gilmore said, “I wasn’t going to lose this game. But, then, I wasn’t going to win either. Well, either way, it was fun watching these guys run up and down the floor. I’m not sure what happened to either team’s defense. I was calling for timeouts but nobody would look up.”
Sure enough, it was a strange night all around. But it was offensive basketball at its finest.
Jimmy Mann of the 1975 Tomcats was on fire like nobody had ever seen him, finishing with a simulation record 37 points and 14 rebounds. He made 16 of 20 shots from the floor and even found a way to collect three assists.
“He was the Mann,” Gilmore said with a wink.
The game was extremely tight and that was expected from these evenly matched teams who were so familiar they had two players who played for both teams. More on that later. The fans packed the stands for what they figured to be a shootout. The Wild West had nothing on these teams.
It was tied 22-22 after the first quarter with neither team holding more than a four-point advantage. In the second quarter, the 75 Cats moved ahead behind Mann’s scoring. He had 26 points at the intermission, nearly half of the Tomcats’ 54-point total.
He left to a standing ovation from both sides.
“I’ve never shot the ball like that before,” admitted Mann, who didn’t miss his first 12 shots. Number 13 went around and around the rim before spinning out.
“I tell you what, Jimmy Mann put us in a hole all by himself,” said Steve Dodd of the 73 Cats. “I’ve never seen anything like it. We knew he could shoot but my goodness who shoots the ball like that?”
The 75 Cats built a 54-43 lead at the half and the offense seemed to know exactly what the defense was doing. The teams were so familiar with each other that the defenses almost never had a chance to stop them.
“We were running the same offenses and defenses,” Gilmore said. “This was almost more like an AAU game. Very little defense was being played.”
Neither team had the 3-point shot when they played in the early 70s – the rule didn’t come into play until 1987 – but they experimented with it in the simulation. They both had some good moments with it too.
The 75 Cats were 8-for-23 with Steve Kovach and Mark Collins swishing three apiece. Danny Evans nailed three-of-five for the 73 Cats. He hardly had to change his style, although Evans was caught looking down several times to make sure his feet were behind the arc when pulling up for the long shot at the end of fast breaks, a staple move for him.
“How many times have I watched Danny Evans make that shot,” Gilmore said. “I knew every time he stopped at the top of the key on that fast break it was going in. He got real comfortable with that shot.”
Evans finished with 15 points and 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals. He was one of four in double figures and two others scored nine for the 73 Cats.
“We got the offense moving but didn’t make many stops,” Evans said. “We’re better than that on defense. That part was disappointing but the game was fun.”
However, despite pulling within four points on several occasions in the second half, the 73 Tomcats had it down to a 60-58 deficit when Dodd scored on a putback. They trailed only 68-64 going into the fourth quarter.
“The 73 team had some momentum,” Gilmore said. “But that big run did them in.”
A 13-0 spurt ignited by a pair of triples from Collins and two surprising ones from the 6-foot-6 Kovach brought the score to 81-64 in favor of the 75 Tomcats.
That was as close as the 73 Tomcats would get to the 75 Cats, who pulled away for a 94-81 victory that had the fans buzzing.
Mann scored 11 in the second half for his 37-point total and Collins finished with 16 points. Bryan Salyers scored 12 with six assists. It was a scoring-fest for the 75 Cats, who shot a blistering 53 percent from the floor.
“That was a lot of fun,” said 75 Tomcat reserve Greg Estep. “When we got it moving, we really got it moving. It was good to get together with these guys again. We both hated how our seasons ended a lot sooner than either one of us thought it should have.”
The 75 Tomcats bowed out in the first round of the region against Greenup County after going undefeated against region competition during the regular season. The 73 Cats fell to Boyd County in the regional final.
Both of them had high hopes of a trip to the Sweet 16.
“I loved both of these basketball teams,” Gilmore said afterward. “They were outstanding teams who played well and competed hard. And let me tell you, I don’t know how those volleyball refs stand on those ladders for so long. My feet are killing me. So is my back. But it was a good view of a fun to watch basketball game, even if they never heard me much.”
Dodd and Evans, two future coaches, did much of the bench work for the 73 team. Dodd also finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. In another rare twist, Kovach was matched against himself on several occasions. The sophomore Kovach had 10 points and six rebounds and the senior Kovach finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Salyers also scored for both teams.
Only in simulation world will that happen.
The 73 Cats were forced into 26 turnovers in the high-flying game. Salyers and Estep had three steals apiece.
Meanwhile, Dicky Martin was breathless after calling a lot of the second half of the high-scoring game. “I love this,” he said. “I’m going to try and do a few more games.”
Pete Wonn, who did the color commentating, said the younger Martin was a natural.
“A star is born,” he said.
Ashland’s 1973 team compiled a 22-5 record and reached the finals of the regional tournament where the Tomcats fell to Boyd County, 73-64. A week earlier the Lions defeated the Tomcats 77-73 in Anderson gym. It was the first time Ashland had ever lost to Boyd County.
Ashland’s 1975 team was highly regarded with great overall size. The Tomcats were 19-9 and were undefeated against region competition until the loss to Greenup County that soured the season.
1973 ASHLAND (81) – Evans 5-11 2-3 12, G.Conley 4-11 1-1 9, Kovach 4-9 102 9, Dodd 5-9 0-1 10, Smith 3-7 3-3 10, Booker 3-5 4-5 11, Heffner 2-4 0-0 4, Wilcox 0-2 3-5 3, R.Conley 2-6 2-2 6, Salyers 0-1 2-2 2. FG: 28-65. FT: 20-26. 3FG: 5-13 (Evans 3-5, G.Conley 0-1, Smith 1-3, Booker 1-4). Rebounds: 32 (Evans 4, Kovach 2, Dodd 12, Smith 4, Booker 3, Heffner 4, R.Conley 1, Salyers 2). Assists: 18 (Evans 10, G.Conley 1, Kovach 3, Dodd 1, Smith 1, Booker 2). PF: 19. Turnovers: 26.
1975 ASHLAND (94) – Salyers 5-6 2-2 12, Small 1-3 0-0 2, Collins 6-19 5-8 16, Mann 16-20 5-8 37, Estep 2-5 1-1 5, Kovach 4-6 3-5 11, Craft 2-4 0-0 6, Fosson 1-4 3-4 5, King 0-2 0-0 0. FG: 37-69. FT: 12-18. 3FG: 8-23 (Small 0-2, Collins 3-9, Estep 0-1, Kovach 3-5, Craft 2-4, Fosson 0-2). Rebounds: 36 (Salyers 4, Small 2, Collins 5, Mann 14, Estep 2, Kovach 5, Fosson 4, King 4). Assists: 24 (Salyers 6, Small 1, Mann 3, Estep 2, Kovach 3, Craft 3, Fosson 4). PF: 24. Turnovers: 19.
1973 ASHLAND 22 21 21 17 – 81
1975 ASHLAND 22 32 14 26 – 94