LEXINGTON, Kentucky — On Thursday night, Ashland looked like a team with something to prove at Rupp Arena.
The Tomcats used a pressure defense to frustrate Knox Central in the first half and turned miscues into points consistently in a 56-38 win in the Kentucky Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena.
“I think we forced them into 12 turnovers and two assists at the break, so that created some opportunities for us to get out in transition,” Ashland coach Jason Mays said.
With the win, Ashland moves on to face Boyle County, who rallied in the second half to earn a 70-56 win over Paintsville. That game will take place at 5 p.m. on Friday evening.
Ashland built a 20-point advantage at the half, holding a Knox Central team that averaged 75 points per game this season to just 10 in the first half.
“What we do is we don’t allow open threes,” Mays said. “We’re going to make players finish one-on-one, hopefully outside the frame of the backboard. That pressure — whether deny pressure, whether ball pressure or whether it’s exaggerating our helpside — it’s disruptive. They couldn’t get in any kind of flow.”
Colin Porter really dictated play throughout the contest, finishing with 17 points and eight assists while also hitting several key free throws down the stretch as Knox Central looked to foul.
Whether scoring or facilitating, Porter said he was looking to do whatever he could to make sure the team played another game.
“We were just focused on getting a win tonight,” Porter said. “I don’t ever look at the stat sheet or anything. I’m just trying to win.”
Porter took great command of the offense on Thursday night as Ashland showed poise to get good shots while not rushing their play on the offensive end.
After leading by 20 at halftime, Knox Central scored the first seven points of the third quarter to cut the Ashland lead to 13.
However, Hunter Gillum scored five points, including a 3-pointer, in the third quarter which steadied the ship and made Mays laugh after the game.
“It’s always a celebratory occasion when Hunter hits a three,” Mays said. “He’s got a lot of moxie, he’s a senior, he’s a winner.”
The game would never get any closer as Ashland worked its way to its 50th Sweet 16 win in program history.
Ashland jumped out to a 30-10 halftime lead, forcing 12 Knox Central turnovers and turning them into 15 points to take control. Cole Villers was the scoring catalyst for the Tomcats in the first half, scoring 11 of his 14 points before halftime.
Knox Central guard Jevonte Turner came into the game as one of Kentucky’s leading scorers at 26.3 points per game, but was kept scoreless and had four turnovers in the first half against the pressure of the Tomcats.
“In the first half, the defensive gameplan was to create some disruption for their team,” Mays said. “Jevonte Tuner — a kid who’s averaging 26 points a game — we wanted to pick him up early and make sure he knew we were there for the first 50 feet of the floor.”
Ashland’s defense did not allow a first quarter field goal and continued that strength into the second quarter despite Ethan Sellars and Sean Marcum each picking up their second fouls within eight seconds of each other late in the frame.
Gillum hounded Turner in place of Sellars and helped spark an 18-4 run to end the half that put the Tomcats up 20.
Turner was 0-of-7 from the floor in the first half, but got hot in the second half, scoring 20 of Knox Central’s 28 points after halftime, but it was not enough as Ashland kept the lead in tact to earn a date in the quarterfinals on Friday.
ASHLAND 10 20 10 16 — 56: Porter 17, Sellars 2, Villers 14, Carter 4, Atkins 7, Gillum 9, Adkins 3
KNOX CENTRAL 2 8 9 19 — 38: Turner 20, Sizemore 3, I. Mills 7, Chadwell 4, K. Turner 2, L. Mills 2