ASHLAND, Ky. – It’s called the intangibles and they often determine who wins and who doesn’t.
The first quarterfinal game of the Tomcat Shootout came down to an intangible.
As expected, it was a physical battle between the 1970-74 Tomcats and the 1990-94 Tomcats. They both were known for their toughness and that showed up in the opening round with down-to-the-wire victories in the third game of their respective best-of-3 series.
Now it was into the quarterfinals, where it’s win or go home.
“I’ve never seen two teams go at it any harder than these two,” said 1970-74 Tomcat coach Steve Gilmore. “I’m probably not running for office again but, if I do, I want guys like this in my corner. I could go on and on about each player but I don’t guess you have enough … ”
No, sorry coach, we don’t.
The way the game played out spoke volumes. Both teams had their leads – 11 points for the 1990-94 Tomcats and nine for the 1970-74 Tomcats – at different times throughout the game. The stars performed like the stars perform – Marty Thomas scored 33 for 1990-94 and Ronnie Griffith scored 22 for 1970-74 – and they both played important roles.
But the difference was the intangibles.
The 1990-94 Tomcats built an early lead of 28-23 in the first quarter after leading by as many as eight points, the last time at 24-16 when Jason Strader head-faked Dale Lynch off his feet and went around him for a layup.
But the game wasn’t getting away from anybody.
The physical 1970-74 Tomcats knocked Thomas to the floor more times than once, although he still was an incredible 12-for-19 shooting. He also made 9 of 11 free throws and pulled down 12 rebounds.
“You could always count on Marty for the big baskets, too,” said 1990-94 coach Jeff Hall. “He did that again tonight for us and he had some help. Four in double figures is usually a good sign for us.”
The game was higher scoring than most anticipated but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t physical. The 1990-94 Tomcats pushed back. A hard body check on a screen by Rob Lynch sent Danny Evans to the floor and Rusty Gray and Ryan Robinson scrapped for every loose ball available, one time kicking Paul Hixson in the mouth. He had to leave the game after having two teeth knocked out.
The inside play was strong for the 1970-74 Tomcats with Chuck Williams and Steve Dodd playing significant roles. Williams collected 17 points and 10 rebounds and Dodd had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Dodd’s block-outs included a few well-placed elbows in the ribs of Nathan Kirk, who one time gave Dodd a push in the back into the wall when the referees weren’t looking.
“I thought we were going to have a fight,” Gilmore said. “It’s a good thing Ronnie was holding him back or Dodd would have probably been tossed. Johnny (Mullins) was telling him to ‘Go get ‘em!’”
Tempers flared the next time down the floor and the officials called for a timeout to talk to both coaches. The crowd was starting to get active too and that was the bigger concern.
“I wasn’t worried about the players, those things happen,” Hall said. “But it was getting dicey in the stands. And I may or may not have told Nathan he needed to make sure he introduced himself to Mr. Dodd in a nice way.”
The 70-74 Tomcats seemed to get an emotional edge from the near scuffle though. They rallied and overtook the 90-94 Tomcats for a 58-51 halftime lead when Mullins, blood dripping from his mouth, sank a pair of free throws with 13 seconds to play.
The second half was a carbon copy of the first with physical play being the common denominator.
Dodd scored inside to make it 83-73 with 35 seconds to go but the 1990-94 Tomcats got the last three points of the quarter to trail only 83-76 going into the fourth quarter.
“We were in pretty good shape right there because these old men were wearing down,” Hall said.
Gilmore laughed at Hall’s comment about the fatigue.
“Put a ball on the floor and watch them go,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many people diving for the basketball. Coaching these guys were a dream, a bunch of hard nuts to crack. They weren’t tired, not one bit.”
A three-point play from Thomas took an 88-84 deficit to 88-87 early in the fourth quarter and the game played out tight from there. A 5-0 run from the 90-94 Cats put them back in front for the first time in the second half at 92-88. It included a dazzling drive-and-score from Robinson, who was pummeled by Mullins. Robinson completed the three-point trip.
Blood was flowing from the noses of Williams and Fred Keeton, who had got into a little elbow battle, too. The colors of this game were maroon-and-red!
“I tell you what, it was tough inside,” Thomas said. “I’ve never taken so many body shots. Nothing came easy.”
Thomas scored five consecutive points to tie the game at 96 and he had two other baskets that kept it close with the 90-94 Cats trailing 102-100. Two free throws from Griffith brought the lead to 104-100 but Austin Young answered with a 3-pointer from the deep corner to make it 104-103.
Griffith made one of two free throws and Thomas, who was well covered inside, stepped outside and swished a 15-footer to tie it 105-105 with 10 seconds remaining.
Evans hurried it down the floor and fired up an off-balance 15-footer that spun around the rim and came out, but Jeff Cooksey kept the ball alive with a one-handed tip, allowing Dodd to grab the rebound and stick it in as the buzzer sounded for an exhausting 107-105 victory.
The 70-74 Tomcats ran up to Dodd and surrounded him in celebration while the 90-94 Tomcats looked up at the scoreboard while bent over with hands on their knees.
“I made the game-winning shot but it would have never happened if Jeff Cooksey hadn’t kept it alive,” Dodd said. “The guy is always hustling. He had a tough game but he made the biggest play of the night.”
Cooksey was the intangible difference.
It was a tough ending for the 90-94 Tomcats, which had a big game from Rob Lynch with 21 points and Kirk and Strader with 13 points apiece. Kirk also had nine rebounds and Strader 10 assists.
Dale Lynch didn’t miss a shot and scored 15 points – 5-for-5 from the field including a 3-pointer and 4-for-4 on free throws. Mullins scored 13 points.
The difference in the game was the failure of the 90-94 Tomcats to get the 3-point game going. They were a woeful 1-for-15.
“These guys are shooters, so I don’t understand how that happened … until you look at their arms,” Hall said. “They were blood red, I swear. You can’t make a 3-pointer with somebody swiping at your arms.”
It didn’t help that the 90-94 Tomcats missed with nobody around them. They were 22 of 40 on free throws.
“Welcome to the 1970s boys,” Mullins said.
The 1970-74 Tomcats play the tournament favorite 1960-64 Tomcats in the semifinals.
1970-74 ASHLAND (107) – Mullins 5-8 3-3 13, Griffith 9-24 4-5 22, D.Lynch 5-5 4-4 15, Williams 6-15 5-9 17, Dodd 7-10 5-10 19, Farrow 1-4 2-2 5, Evans 3-9 909 6, Cooksey 2-7 1-2 5, Smith 1-2 1-1 3, Hixson 1-4 0-0 2. FG: 40-88. FT: 25-36. 3FG: 2-6 (D.Lynch 1-1, Griffith 0-1, Evans 0-2, Farrow 1-2). Rebounds: 48 (Mullins 5, Griffith 8, D.Lynch 2, Williams 10, Dodd 10, Cooksey 8, Smith 2). Assists: 17 (Mullins 2, Griffith 3, D.Lynch 2, Williams 2, Dodd 3, Evans 2, Cooksey 1, Smith 1, Hixson 1). PF: 30. Turnovers: 17.
1990-1994 ASHLAND (101) – Strader 6-13 1-2 13, Thomas 12-19 9-11 33, Young 2-10 0-0 5, Keeton 2-6 1-4 5, R.Lynch 8-11 5-8 21, Kirk 5-10 3-9 13, Greene 3-9 1-3 7, Gray 1-2 1-2 3, Robinson 2-4 1-1 5, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Salyers 0-3 0-0 0. FG: 41-87. FT: 22-40. 3FG: 1-15 (Strader 0-4, Thomas 0-2, Young 1-3, R.Lynch 0-3, Greene 0-2). Rebounds: 53 (Strader 2, Thomas 12, Young 5, Keeton 11, R.Lynch 5, Kirk 9, Greene 5, Gray 2, Robinson 1). Assists: 20 (Strader 6, Young 4, R.Lynch 2, Smith 4, Robinson 4). PF: 24. Turnovers: 18.
1970-74 TOMCATS 23 35 25 24 – 107
1990-94 TOMCATS 28 23 25 29 – 105