In the wake of Perry County Central’s upset loss to Buckhorn in the semi-finals of the boys’ 54th District Tournament last week, the Knott County Central Patriots have established themselves as the front runner in this week’s 14th Regional Tournament.
The Patriots, who defeated the physically powerful Letcher County Central Cougars on Saturday night, enjoy one other huge benefit — the regional tourney is being played on their home court.
Despite the Knott Central’s added advantage of having two of the top players in the region — Cameron Justice and Zack Davis — the Patriots’ road to the Sweet Sixteen will not be easy, especially with Breathitt County looming in the same bracket.
Any one of five teams — Breathitt County, Buckhorn, Hazard, Knott Central or Letcher County — could claim the regional crown on March 6.
In Wednesday night’s opening round upper bracket matchup (6:30 tipoff ), Buckhorn (24-5) plays Wolfe County (13-13). Letcher Central (19-13) plays Powell County (19-12) in the 8:00 game. On March 1, Knott Central (25-5) plays Hazard (20-11) in the 6:30 game followed by Breathitt County (22-5) versus Estill County (11-21). The semifinals will be held next Monday, and the championship next Tuesday. The boys’ Sweet Sixteen begins March 14 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
At this time of the year, the game of basketball becomes really pretty simple; the team that can string together the most consecutive games with the fewest turnovers, claim the most rebounds and convert the most free throws will be making the trip to Rupp Arena.
Knott Central 60
Letcher Central 56
For the third time this season, the Patriots held on down the stretch to edge the Cougars. This time the game was at Jenkins High School for the championship of 53rd District Tournament.
The Patriots jumped on top 5-0 with LCC having to play catch-up for much of the entire game. Led by super freshman guard Cameron Justice, who just refused to wilt to defensive pressure, and by senior guard Zack Davis, the Patriots withstood numerous charges by the Cougars.
The Patriots hit four of their first five field goals and led 10-3 with five minutes left in the first quarter before senior guard Trenton Whitaker found his range. Whitaker, who scored nine of his 15 points in the first quarter, stuck back an offensive rebound to tie the game at 11 with 1:19 left in the opening quarter. Justice’s short jumper gave the Patriots a 13-11 lead at the end of the quarter, and his back-to-back treys early in the second quarter extended the Patriots’ lead to 17-11.
Turnovers and strong rebounding by the Patriots limited the Cougars’ inside strength in the second quarter and allowed Knott Central to pushed their lead to 30-20 by the break.
Logan Johnson’s fourpoint play (trey plus free throw) cut the Patriots’ lead to 31-28 at the 6:03 mark of the third quarter, but Johnson and Kendall Ballou then picked up their third fouls and spent some minutes on the bench. Senior Matt Boggs’ offensive stickback cut the Patriots’ lead to 35-30 midway of the third quarter, but the Patriots responded to push their lead back out to 47-40 heading into the final quarter.
Freshman Evan Hall’s layup gave the Patriots their largest lead of the second half, 57-47, with 2:20 left.
Still, the Cougars’ refused to quit. Sam Robinson’s pair of free throws and two more by Johnson cut the Patriots’ lead to 57-53 with 48 seconds, but in the final seconds Justice made three of four from the charity line as the Patriots held on for the win.
Justice led every one with 21 points and five assists. Zack Davis, who was named Tourney MVP, added 16 points and six rebounds. Evan Hall finished with 11 points and six rebounds and Chance Cornett wound up with nine points.
For Letcher Central, Logan Johnson also finished with 15 points – 12 coming in the second half despite the foul trouble. Kori Steward finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. Kendall Ballou contributed four points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. Cody Gregory scored four points and dished out four assists. Matt Boggs and Sam Robinson wound up with two points each.
Letcher Central 81
The Cougars easily defeated the Lions in the opening round of the district tournament.
The Cougars placed four senior players in double figures scoring, led by Trenton Whitaker’s game-high tying 17 points. Logan Johnson added 13 points. Kori Stewart chipped in with 11 points and Kendall Ballou finished with 19 points.
Cody Sexton added nine points, Cody Gregory six points and Zane Blair five points. Hunter Hall, Dylan Kincer, Josh Owens, Sam Robinson and Paul Solokovich scored two points each.