Edmonson Voice Sports
Iszic Blankenship hit one of two free throws with 11 seconds on the clock against Nelson County to give the Wildcats a 42-41 lead as they held on to win yesterday at Hancock County in the Aleris Christmas Tournament.
Going in to the game, Coach Mac said the keys would be to contain Nelson County's three top scorers, which included a three point shooter, a post player, and a slash-type scorer. He also wanted to put more emphasis on offensive rebounding and have a good showing with a strong offensive presence in the paint.
Coach couldn't have drawn it up much better as the Cats out-rebounded the Cardinals 28-18, scored over half their points in the paint, and strong defense allowed only two Nelson County scorers in double figures.
Senior forward Cuban Sowders took a nasty fall as he got tangled up under the basket with a Nelson County player with 3:19 left in the third. He had to be helped off the court and did not return to the game.
Nelson County was able to hold a few points advantage throughout the most of the contest, but with 4:45 left in the game, the Cardinals were trying to get an open look inside, but ended up playing catch at the elbow while the Cats were in a 2-3 zone. Junior Bailey Board timed a pass just right and came up with a steal that led to a fast break and a Hunter Buttram bucket that tied the score at 37 all.
After a short jumper from the Cardinals to regain the lead, Hunter Buttram's jumper in the paint was blocked and Nelson County came up with the ball and were forced to play catch against the Wildcat zone yet again. History repeated itself as Board picked off the same identical pass and took it to the other end to tie the score again at 39-39 with 3:20 to go.
After a missed Cardinal jumper, Hunter Buttram's 3 point attempt rattled in and out, but Blankenship was there with an offensive board and a bucket to take the 41-39 lead with 2:37 to go.
Nelson County drew a foul on Blankenship and after two free throws, the score was tied at 41 all with 1:33 left. The Wildcats ran a 4 corner-type offense in the final minute that resulted in a pass down to Blankenship where he drew the foul with 11 seconds left. After hitting one of two free throws, Nelson County was forced to take a deep three at the buzzer, thanks to tough defense from the Wildcats, which fell short, as did the Cardinals.
"I'm so proud of our defense," Coach Mac said. "Caleb Skaggs came in there against a kid that was very physical and a lot bigger than he is, but by-golly, he stuck him. It's a credit to Caleb. All our guys worked so hard on the defensive end."
Coach Mac said the offense was shaky at times, but big plays came when needed. He said the plan was for Board to stay lower in the zone defense early in play, and only come out to the top if he felt good with gambling for the steal. Board obviously felt good with that move, not once, but twice.
The boys will have the next few days off for Christmas, something much needed for the tired and banged up Wildcats. Sowders said he felt like his knee would be fine. "It's sore, but nothing major," he said. "Ice and Ibuprofen, and I'll be alright."
Once again, at the end of the game, the main story is a team win, something Wildcat fans have seen time and time again this season.
"We talk a lot about 'team,'" Mac said. "It may sound corny, but I know that every one of those kids have each others' backs. The ones that didn't get in today's game were still clapping on the bench, they were happy in the locker room. We're more than a team, we're somewhat a family and it's carried over from last year. They play together, they don't care who scores, they don't care who gets the headlines, they want to win, and they'll sacrifice to do it."
The Wildcats now move to 7-4 on the season. In the low-scoring affair, Hunter Buttram and Caleb Skaggs were the only Cats in double figures with 12 each. Sowders had 8, Blankenship had 5, Board had 4, and Cole had 1.
"We kinda got a saying," Mac added. "We don't lose. We either win or we learn, and we learned from Greenwood, Barren, and Hancock when we didn't show up to play. We're learning we have to show up to every game."
The next game will be December 28 at Ohio County in an invitational tournament.