The Barren County Trojans put three players in double figures Friday night as they beat the Russell County Lakers 68-59 in the first round of the Boys Fourth Region Basketball Tournament at Barren County High School.
“I thought we guarded really well tonight,” said Barren County coach Warren Cunningham. “They've got more than one or two guys that can score. Last time we played them, they had four guys in double figures. (I knew) It had to be a complete team effort defensively tonight, and I thought we did a tremendous job.
“The only thing we really gave up was second chance points. They got a lot of offensive rebounds, hurt us on the glass some. They are so physical and so strong. Our initial defense was as good as it has been all year and it had to be to give ourselves a chance.”
The victory puts the Trojans into the semifinals against Bowling Green at 6 p.m. on Monday. The Purples beat Franklin-Simpson 77-33 in Friday’s other first-round contest.
Leading 50-36 as the start of the fourth period, the Russell County Lakers began to cut away at the Trojans’ lead. Charley McCoy opened the period with a bucket for the Trojans, but Russell County scored six of the next eight points, thanks to baskets by Brenan Coffey, Nick Coffey and Kel Stotts, to pull within 12 at 54-42 with 5:09 to go in the game.
Wade Coomer answered with a basket for Barren County, but Stotts came right back to make it 56-44. The Lakers got a 3-point play by Nick Coffey and two free throws by Stotts, and Russell County was suddenly within striking distance at 56-49 with 3:43 on the clock.
The Trojans calmly came back with five straight points, four from Bo Hubbard and one from Ben Leftwich, to push the Barren County lead to 61-49 with just over 2:00 to play. Alex Turner nailed a 3-pointer for the Lakers, but Hubbard came back with two free throws for the Trojans.
Russell County got it back down to seven points with less than a minute to go in the game when Turner sank another 3-pointer, this time from the top of the key, to make it 64-57. That was a close as Russell County would get the rest of the night.
Leftwich led the Trojans in scoring with 23 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Barrett Billingsley had 14 points, seven assists and two steals. McCoy added 11 points, while Hubbard had eight. Coomer and Zach Mabe scored four points each, while Sawyer Matthews and Nick Mabe tallied two points apiece.
“Ben Leftwich was tremendous. He made play after play for us,” Cunningham relayed. “He went through a stretch there where it seemed like he was either scoring or getting free throws, or both. It seemed like they had a hard time guarding him.”
Barren County took control of what was a very close game late in the second quarter. With the score tied at 19, the Trojans scored the final eight points of the period to take a 27-19 advantage into the locker room at intermission. Leftwich opened the Barren County run with two free throws. Zach Mabe added a floater in the lane and Matthews came off the bench to hit a turnaround jumper. Leftwich closed it out with two more free throws in the final seconds.
“The run at the end of the first half was huge, and we did it with some subs in the game,” Cunningham said. “I thought that was a key run, it gave us a little bit of space. Then we continued it on in the third quarter, and that forced them to start trapping and doing some stuff like that. As long as we took care of the ball, that was to our advantage.”
The Trojans pushed their lead to double digits in the third period, scoring seven of the first 12 points of the quarter to take a 34-24 lead at the 5:23 mark. Leftwich scored five of the seven points to lead the way. The two teams exchanged baskets over the next few minutes, but a jumper by Hubbard and a 3-pointer by McCoy gave the Trojans a 44-29 lead with 2:33 to go in the quarter. .