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MOUNT STERLING – Less than 20 minutes after his team had just scared the bejeebers out of top-ranked Elliott County, Glen Drury was not satisfied.
His Anderson County team had just dropped a 76-72 overtime decision on the big stage before a crowd of better than 3,000 at the Kentucky Prep Classic and had earned some long-overdue but well-deserved statewide respect. Yet, Drury also knew the Bearcats had a 17-point first half lead evaporate Saturday evening.
He knew his team had played extremely well, but for the second time in 12 days, had fallen to the team then atop the polls on the floor at Montgomery County Arena.
“The kids played very well, but we had too much enjoyment at the half,” Drury said.
The Bearcats stunned Elliott, ranked No. 1 in the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Rating the State and the Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, with a with a 22-5 run through the first seven minutes of the second quarter.
The Bearcats passed with laser-like precision and pounded the Lions with C.J. Penny, Jacob Russell and Nick Humphries dominating the area around the rim.
Penny scored 16 of his game-high 31 points in the first 16 minutes while Humphries had nine second quarter points.
In one sequence, the Bearcats tipped the ball five times before Humphries got one to fall that put Anderson up 30-19 midway through the second stanza.
Anderson continued its dominance underneath, finishing with a 46-25 advantage on the boards. Russell grabbed 15 boards, Penny 14.
The Bearcats also had a big first half from reserve Walt Ruggles, who gave solid defense and rebounding and scored four points before the break, including a sizzling runout on a pass from his cousin, Will Ruggles.
Yet, the tide might have started to turn ever so slightly in those final 60 seconds before the break as Elliott showed the kind of firepower that has obliterated opponents by an average of over 26 points a game. The Lions are now 12-1.
Elliott came into the Prep Classic as the state’s most prolific offensive team, scoring better than 88 points a game.
With Anderson up 39-22, Elliott’s Tim Knipp scored on a layup. Anderson tried to hold for a final shot but Russell’s lay-up at seven seconds was disallowed by a charging call.
As time expired, Elliott’s Jonathan Ferguson banked in an off-balance 3-pointer. The lead had been chopped to 39-27 in less than a minute.
“The three didn’t deflate us as much as it inflated them,” Drury said.
“We knew how explosive they are and how they can score. We knew they were a team of runs. We told the kids there were 16 minutes left.”
But it took Elliott less than three minutes to catch up.
The Lions forced four turnovers, including a 5-second call on an out-of-bounds play, as they took a 42-41 lead after Ethan Faulkner converted a steal into a layup. The Lions had connected on four 3-pointers during the comeback.
While Anderson’s defense limited Elliott to 37 percent shooting, the Lions kept firing and found ways to get to the free throw line, where they hit 22 of 31.
“They came out more determined at the start of the second half,” Drury said.
“They had not lost to a Kentucky team and you have to give them a lot of credit for coming back the way they did.”
Anderson committed eight of its 18 turnovers in the third quarter. Elliott turned the ball over just five times on the night.
Neither team would lead by more than five over the final 13 minutes but Elliott looked to be in good shape when Faulkner hit two free throws to make it 65-61 with 18.9 seconds to play.
But in the final 4.2 seconds, Anderson sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers from Russell around two more free throws by Faulkner to send things to the extra period.
Penny beat his man on the dribble, then delivered a perfect pass to Russell alone on the right wing for the tying bomb.
The ball fell through the net after the final horn had sounded, but there was no doubt that he had gotten the shot off in time.
“It worked just like we diagrammed it,” Drury said. “Jacob is a big shot kind of player.”
Faulkner scored the first basket of the extra period on a put-back and Elliott never trailed again.
Tim Knipp, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, led Elliott with 21 points and nine rebounds, but the Lions had four players reach double figures. “They have so many players that can score and you can’t just shut one down,” Drury said.
Ferguson, one of the state’s top scorers, tallied 18, eight below his average, and Evan Faulkner, the Lions’ second leading point-getter, was nine under his 17 points-per-game average.
“Knipp really hurt us inside with his size,” Drury noted.
Drury was quick to remind the Bearcat faithful that playing well on a big stage is not all he was looking for from his team, which is favored to return to the state tournament for the first time in 12 years.
“There is no doubt this will help us in the Eighth Region. It is going to be highly competitive,” he noted.
“There is a lot of season left and we have got to continue to improve. We have some very unfinished business.”
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.