Owensboro struggles late, suffers heartbreaking loss to Ashland Blazer in Sweet 16

March 16, 2023 | 12:05 am

Updated March 16, 2023 | 2:53 am

Photo by Gage Johnson

Second chance points and late struggles at the charity stripe came back to bite the Red Devils on Wednesday night, as an Ashland Blazer three with 17 seconds to play ended their season with a 66-65 loss in the opening round of the state tournament.

The Tomcats delivered the first blow of the night with a quick layup, but a contested corner three from senior Talas Taylor on the other end gave Owensboro the jolt they needed. Creating havoc with their fullcourt pressure, the Red Devils were off and running with a 12-2 start with 4:55 left in the first quarter thanks to a three from freshman Jonathan Moss.

Ashland Blazer was able to get a nice turnaround jumper out of the timeout to end the run, later even cutting the lead to 14-9 and forcing Head Coach Rod Drake to call a timeout with 3:07 to go in the quarter. The Red Devils came out of the timeout with a minute-long 4-0 run, but offensive boards and second chance points kept the Tomcats right on their tails at 20-14 heading into the second quarter.

It was then that Ashland Blazer began to slow the tempo down, starting the quarter on a 6-0 run to even things up at 20-20 with 5:25 to go in the first half. Senior Kenyatta Carbon converted a tough and-one shortly after, but the game coming to a halt offensively had Owensboro struggling to find a rhythm and sent them into halftime holding a narrow 30-28 lead.

The sudden tempo change in the second quarter seemed to halt any momentum the Red Devils had and Head Coach Ryan Bonner said that it was his team taking smarter shots that helped them gain control of the pace of play.

“I thought we were settling for threes that were way way outside of our range,” Bonner said. “I think that third line was messing with us a little bit and those misses were turning into transition opportunities for them. We knew going into this game, in my opinion and I think these guys would agree, they are the fastest team we’ve seen on film all year. They are just fast… Your shot selection against a team that is so transition-oriented like that is huge. You gotta take the right shots or they’re going to make you pay for it.”

The Tomcats came out of the locker room hot too, getting a three from senior Tristin Davis to take the lead to start the second half and then build their lead to 38-34 with 4:24 to go in the quarter. The Red Devils were able to cut it to 38-37 the following possession with a nice jump stop by Taylor that led to an and-one, but Ashland Blazer kept pushing with their perimeter shooting and hit their third three of the quarter to take a 41-39 lead with 2:47 to go in the third.

Senior Jalen Rogers quickly tied things back up though after a rebound and layup, getting back out in front for the remainder of the quarter and getting a big three from senior Cayman Powell on an incredible pass by Carbon to take a 48-44 lead into the fourth. Owensboro maintained control of the game for much of the fourth as well with a 59-52 lead with four minutes to go, but the Tomcats weren’t going away. 

With 1:41 left in the game Ashland Blazer had worked itself back and cut the deficit to 63-60, thanks to a pair of free throws from sophomore Zander Carter. Kenyatta got a layup to swiftly respond, but an offensive rebound led to a layup for Carter—as his 15th point of the second half to help him finish with a team-leading 25 points made it 65-62 with a minute to go.

Not long after Moss was sent to the line by the Tomcats and he missed the front of the one-and-one, giving Ashland Blazer a window of opportunity. A reach-in foul was called on Taylor on the other end with 39.5 seconds to go, sending sophomore Braxton Jennings to the line. The Tomcats got an offensive rebound after Jennings hit the first, but senior Ji Webb delivered a massive block to let Moss control the rebound and get sent to the line once again holding onto a 65-63 lead with 31.9 to go.

But Moss was unable to connect for the second time, as Ashland Blazer charged the other way and worked the ball around until Jennings was left wide open on the left wing to knock down his 12th of 29 threes on the season to take a 66-65 lead with 17 seconds to go. With three timeouts left Owensboro elected to not use one, as a pull-up jumper by Carbon didn’t fall—as a pair subsequent offensive rebounds and misses followed and ultimately led to the 66-65 loss in the Sweet 16.

There was no hesitation from Drake postgame on whether or not the Red Devils should’ve used a timeout there in the final moments, saying that they just fell short in certain facets of the game that led to the loss.

“I thought we got several good looks,” Drake said. “They just didn’t go down. It just wasn’t our night tonight. You can’t take away anything from them. They shot the ball extremely well and went to the boards and got second shots. We had a chance with about another minute to go and we gave them three shots down there. You give a team three shots down there, they’re going to capitalize on it.”

Following the game the Tomcats skipper had much to say about the passion both teams showed for 32 minutes on Wednesday night, saying that purely as someone who loves the game it was amazing to be a part of.

“Just an absolute dogfight of a basketball game by both teams,” Bonner said. “It was a slugfest. It was physical, it was up and down at times. At times the pace was slow, at times the pace was extremely rapid. As just a fan of the game of basketball, I feel like you got to literally see everything that you would want to see within 32 minutes of a high school basketball game. It was a phenomenal game. What you saw out there is exactly why they call it march madness.”

Drake shared the notion, but let it be known that the 45-33 rebound discrepancy and 21 second chance points—which he said happened because the Red Devils didn’t meet opposing players out far enough to start boxing out—came back to bite them in the loss along with a 2-5 mark at the charity stripe in the fourth.

“It was a great ballgame,” Drake said. “I thought it was the way we had planned it to be, but we gave up way too many second shots. 17 offensive rebounds and obviously we didn’t hit the free throws down the stretch, but it was a great ballgame.”

Carter benefitted the most from those rebounds, as he grabbed 13 of them and finished with a game-leading 25 points—while Rheyce Debaord finished with 17 points, Jennings had 10 points and junior Nate Frieze grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench. Carbon led Owensboro with 22 points and six rebounds, while Taylor had 13 points, Moss had 11 points and Webb had eight points and nine rebounds.

While the final result is obviously not what Owensboro wanted, Drake said that he was more than happy with the way his team battled and is thrilled with the resolve his team has shown to grab a 9th District Championship, 3rd Region Championship and make it to Rupp Arena in a whirlwind of the season.

“I’m extremely proud of these young men,” Drake said. “We have got seven seniors and they are great kids. They are super kids that have been an asset to our community and I look forward to seeing these guys in the community after this is over with. They learned a lot and I told these guys we could’ve laid down midway through the season, but they circled the wagons. These guys pushed together and we were lucky to be here. And like I said, I’m extremely proud to have had the opportunity to coach these young men.”

The Red Devils finish the year 19-11 overall, as Carbon—Owensboro’s second all-time leading scorer at 1,780 points behind Kenny Higgs’ 1,833—Powell, Taylor, Pendleton, Webb, Johnson and Rogers all have their high school careers come to a close. Taylor said after the game that he was proud of what Owensboro accomplished despite the result in the Sweet 16, as the group became very tight and battled for one another—leaving it all out on the floor until the very end.

“It’s been a long season and I’m glad this group came together as it did through the end of the season,” Taylor said. “We had a lot of troubles at the beginning of the season facing a lot of unimaginable things you wouldn’t think on high schoolers. And throughout the season we came together as a whole as a team and found love in each other. Played hard for each other.”

March 16, 2023 | 12:05 am

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