AIT final: A crowning achievement: Tomcats overwhelm Warriors, win 17th AIT title

Dec. 30—ASHLAND — It didn't take long for Ashland to make its presence known in the Ashland Invitational Tournament championship game.

The Tomcats overwhelmed Danville Christian on Saturday, winning the 68th AIT, 60-37, in a game where Ashland led from start to finish.

"It was an inspired group tonight that wasn't going to walk away without a championship," Ashland coach Ryan Bonner said. "I'm so pleased with where we're at right now. It was three tough days of basketball. I love our guys' level of intensity and focus going into each day. Their preparation led to great execution in all three games."

Bonner added that he thinks the come-from-behind semifinal win against Jeffersontown played a role in the maturing process.

"It was great to see us grit through some adversity, down four late in the game," Bonner said. "Figuring that out was huge for us."

The first quarter got off to a raucous start, with both teams missing the mark due to some troublesome defense on both ends.

The Warriors were causing the Tomcats to settle for some forced shots, and vice versa. There were also plenty of miscues early on and it led to a few loose ball situations.

Ashland created some offense in the chaos, jumping out to a 6-0 lead by the 3:30 mark.

Danville Christian finally found its first points with 1:20 remaining. It would be the only points that the Warriors would collect in the first quarter.

"I think early on, we were settling," Bonner said. "Once we started executing and getting downhill and getting into gaps, it created good offense for us. But I also think, on the defensive side of the ball, we were stringing together so many consecutive stops and were getting rebounds and pushing tempo. ... That defense was creating offense for us. But our execution got increasingly better throughout the game."

By the end of the opening frame, Ashland had a 15-2 lead after a pair of treys by Tyson Lalonde.

Danville Christian would fare a little better in the second quarter as Emmanuel Dut was finally able to get some offense going in the contest.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, the Tomcats found some rhythm on offense. They rattled off a 10-0 run to increase the lead to 29-10 with under a minute to play.

Dut was able to hit a 3 at the buzzer and the Warrior trailed by 16 at the half.

Zander Carter led the Tomcats at the break with 12 points. The junior standout was able to take advantage of the lane in the second quarter, finding a bucket or drawing contact several times in the frame.

Ashland extended its lead out of the locker room with an 8-2 run to go up 37-15 halfway through the third quarter.

Following a timeout at 4:35, the Warriors' offense looked like it had started to get a little more in sync.

Danville Christian managed to double its first-half point total in the third quarter but couldn't slow down Ashland.

A 3-pointer at the buzzer from Nate Freize gave the Tomcats a commanding 46-23 lead heading into the final frame.

It was more of the same in the fourth quarter.

Both teams gave opportunities to their bench players. It led to Danville Christian's Luke Adkins and Ashland's Caleb Clarke trading 3-point shots late in the contest.

Adkins' trey would be the final shot of the game to secure the victory.

Carter was the leading scorer in the game with 23 points. Dut led the Warriors with 11.

Carter was named the tournament MVP of the AIT and was joined on the All-Tournament team by Lalonde and Freize.

"I'm just blessed and thankful that the Lord put us in this position," Carter said. "I'm super thankful for the brotherhood we have in the locker room and with the coaching staff. I'm feeling great about our team and think we're playing our best basketball. But there's definitely more to come and more to work on."

For Carter, the MVP award was a nice addition to his scoring achievement during the tournament when he became the all-time leading scorer at Ashland.

"It really hasn't fully set in yet," Carter said. "Everyone keeps telling me that when I come back someday, maybe with my own kids, I'll probably fully take it in. But right now, I'm just blessed and honored to just put on a Tomcat jersey. When I moved here my freshman year, they welcomed me from Day 1. But at the end of the day, I consider (the scoring title) a testament to my faith in Jesus Christ."

"The future is limitless," Bonner said of Carter. "Zander does so much that is unrequired of him and when no one is watching. That's what it takes to break records and achieve great things on the court. But he provides so much good off the court as well that it drives our culture in the right direction. I know he's going to continue to get better and make everyone around him better."

Dut, along with teammates Titus Boyd and Brayden Fugate, were named to the All-Tournament team.

Morgan County's Preston Hoskins also made the All-Tournament team.

Danville Christian (7-3) will play Ashland again at home on Jan. 19.

Ashland (9-3) returns to the court on Saturday at Corbin.

"I'm really excited about where we are, but there's still so much growth that needs to be made between now and the postseason," "We'll have a solid four days of practice leading up to us going to Corbin, so it'll be nice to be able to digest all this film. Then we'll figure out, this is what we need to get rid of, this is what we need to add, this is what we need to do more of. I'm pleased with where we're at, but there's still a long way to go."


Dut 5-9 0-2 6 11

Fugate 3-12 0-0 2 7

Boyd 3-13 0-2 6 6

Ayrei 1-5 2-2 11 4

Inmon 2-5 0-0 1 4

Adkins 1-2 0-0 0 3

Johnson 1-2 0-0 1 2

Imfeld 0-2 0-0 2 0

Team 2

TOTAL 16-50 2-6 31 37

FG Pct.:32 . FT Pct.: 33.3. 3-pointers: 3-24 (Adkins 1, Dut 1, Fugate 1). PF: 8. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 9


Carter 9-15 5-6 8 23

Lalonde 3-8 0-0 3 9

Frieze 2-6 1-2 1 7

Davis 2-4 2-2 3 6

Adkins 2-3 0-0 6 5

Clarke 2-4 0-1 1 5

Lyons 1-1 0-0 1 3

Jennings 1-5 0-0 2 2

Team 3

TOTAL 22-46 8-11 28 60

FG Pct: 47.8. FT Pct: 72.7. 3-pointers: 8-25 (Lalonde 3, Frieze 2, Adkins 1, Clarke 1, Lyons 2). PF: 6. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 4.

D. CHRISTIAN 2 11 13 11 — 37

ASHLAND 15 14 17 14 — 60

Officials: Kenneth Kegley, Nathan Sutton, Gavin Ramsey.