After cutting off his share of the net, Owensboro boys’ basketball head coach Rod Drake couldn’t help but smile with pride. The Red Devils, after all, are headed back to the Sweet 16.
It took a gutty performance, but Owensboro (23-7) had just enough to get past Breckinridge County (28-4) in a 63-57 victory to claim the 3rd Region Tournament championship Saturday night.
Team leader Darrion Wimsatt went down with an injury early in the second quarter, but the Devils hung around just enough to deliver the final blow and earn the team’s 44th trip to the state tournament, which begins Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
“They’re tough,” Drake said of his players. “What can you say? The star goes down, it’s next man up. It’s been that way all year long. To pull it off on this stage, it’s a hell of a moment.”
With Wimsatt out, Aireon Phillips put the team on his back en route to a career-best night. Several players hit clutch shots when Owensboro needed them most, but Phillips was the driving force for the Devils.
Down 51-49 with 1:38 to play, Phillips took a step inside the 3-point line and tossed up a high-arcing floater that banked in for the tying score.
Owensboro got the ball back and tried to hold for the final shot, though Breckinridge County committed a foul with 7.0 on the clock. A turnover on the inbounds gave the Tigers a chance for the win but the last-second 3-pointer didn’t fall.
After Breckinridge County hit the first shot of overtime, Owensboro had an answer at the other end when Phillips dropped in an overhead pass to Gavin Wimsatt for an inside score. Gavin then hit a free throw on the next possession, and the Devils led the rest of the way.
Kobe Poole, the main threat who almost single-handedly kept the Tigers’ chances alive, fouled out when Jaiden Greathouse drew a charge with 1:08 to play and Owensboro up 55-53.
Drake said Owensboro’s chances of winning were better with Poole on the sideline, but he just wanted to make sure the Devils stayed disciplined.
“Once Poole went out, I thought we were alright,” he said. “We weren’t worried about (trying to make him foul out). We were just trying to take care of business.”
Phillips went 6-for-6 at the free throw line in overtime to help pull away. He played well all night, and his back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter gave Owensboro their biggest lead of the game at 23-12 before Darrion Wimsatt was injured.
The Devils held on for a 29-26 lead at halftime, but Poole carried the Tigers to a 43-40 advantage by the end of the third quarter. Breckinridge County’s biggest lead came at 45-40 on the first bucket of the fourth quarter.
Gavin Wimsatt and Greathouse each powered through for a score down low at the other end to keep Owensboro within striking distance. Adante Greer drained 3-pointer to tie the game at 47-all.
The offense was up and down at times, but the Devils’ defense was once again solid.
“I told our guys all week long about patience,” Drake said. “Patience on defense worked out. (Breckinridge County) got tired and started throwing the ball away. Even after we took ill-advised shots, we still stepped up. I’m proud of the guys.”
Few seats were empty as the two powerhouses of the region squared off one final time.
“These kids do not realize how big basketball at Owensboro High School is in the community,” Drake said. “People don’t come every night because we have a lot of games. But the big games, they show up.”
Owensboro finished the season perfect against 3rd Region opponents, and the Devils handed the Tigers half of their losses this year. Drake said with a young, inexperienced roster, most people didn’t think they’d have a shot at winning the region.
He and the team are going to soak it in as long as they can.
“We’re going to enjoy this,” he said. “We weren’t even supposed to be here. I’m excited, especially for these kids.”
Breck. Co. 10-16-17-8-6–57
Owensboro: Aireon Phillips 19, Gavin Wimsatt 14, Jaiden Greathouse 10, Darrion Wimsatt 8, Adante Greer 6, Isaac Humphrey 4, Amari Wales 1, Imonte Owsley 1
Breck. Co.: Kobe Poole 20, Tanner Whitworth 11, Kaeveon Mitchell 10, Cole Tabor 8, Jon Whitworth 5, Grant Riley 3