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Full stop: Tomcats' defense, second-half surge seal win over Red Devils

Jan. 23—ASHLAND — Once Ashland stopped it, the path to victory started to become clear.

The Tomcats cut off Russell's driving lines in the second half after an opening quarter that saw the Red Devils relentlessly get to the rim.

The closing defensive effort allowed Ashland to end on a 34-13 run and pull away for a 67-42 win at Anderson Gym on Monday night.

After a week of bad weather wrecked the Tomcats' travel plans, the team returned home following a nine-day stint without playing a game.

"We saw the effects of that on the defensive end," Ashland coach Ryan Bonner said. "We weren't as dialed in as we needed to be in the first half on defense. We were lax and let them do whatever they wanted. We weren't guarding the ball or handling their penetration well. We self-corrected that in the second half. I'm sure that nine days without playing had a lot to do with that."

Bonner said Ashland responded to the halftime message well. He didn't have to draw up a new strategy. The coach just asked his team a question. Do you have the drive to fight for stops?

"It shows what kind of leadership that we have," Bonner said. "I gave them that message. It was pretty simple. You just have to guard better. I was a little bit more animated than that as you can imagine. It was the bottom line. We weren't sitting down and fighting for stops. We ended up with four kills in the second half defensively, which means consecutive stops."

Tatum Fleming completed an and-1 early in the third quarter to trim the Red Devils' deficit to 33-29. The Tomcats responded with six straight points. It started with a Zander Carter 3-ball. Cam Davis added a steal and score along with a late basket from downtown to spring Ashland's advantage back to 14 points by the end of the frame.

"(Ashland) did what really good teams do," Russell coach Derek Cooksey said. "They picked up their intensity and made it really hard on us. I think with our kids, some fatigue set in. I'm not making excuses. I thought we settled. We didn't get as much ball movement as we did in the first half. In the first half, we got the ball to wherever we wanted to and then in the second half, we went through a spell where we got stagnant and stood around. ... Our kids kept battling."

Russell took contested shots over the final two quarters after having success scoring inside in the first half. The Red Devils had 15 baskets in the paint and just one outside the lane. Kaden Benge made a 3-pointer in the final seconds. Russell scored 18 total points after halftime and was 1 of 10 from beyond the arc.

"I thought they were all good looks in the first half," Cooksey said. "It was just one of those nights where we didn't knock down some shots. We did in our previous games. We talked about it in the locker room. The kids understand that we have a ways to go and there is room for improvement. Tonight's game really got their attention."

Tyson Lalonde has battled an ankle injury over several weeks but saw significant minutes in the second half. The Ashland (12-5) guard splashed a pair of corner 3s during a 13-0 run that created plenty of separation in the final quarter. Carter and Nate Freize added layups to put the game out of reach.

Lalonde's excitement resulted in quick feet and a pair of traveling calls but once he lined up for a long jumper, he showed that solid shooting stroke once again.

"It's to be expected," Bonner said. "He's hungry. He's wanted to be out there. When I told him tonight that he was going to play limited minutes, his eyes lit up. It's almost like the life came back into him. He's excited and wanted to make a play. Sometimes you have to slow down and let things come to you. When he helped get stops and got in transition, that's when things opened up for him."

Lalonde made all three of his field goal attempts and finished with eight points. Carter was 9 of 16 from the field to lead all scorers with 23 points. Freize added 14 and Davis rounded out the double-figure scoring with 10.

Asher Adkins missed the game due to illness. Bonner would love Lalonde and Adkins to be healthy and in the lineup but several players have stepped up in their absence, a list that includes starters and bench players.

"I thought Caleb Clarke was extremely productive on both ends (on Monday night)," Bonner said. "Sam Lyons did a good job. He hit a 3 for us in the first half. Reggie Bechtel is a guy that can come in and impact the game in a variety of ways. He's big, strong and physical. He rebounds it well. I would much rather have (Tyson and Asher) in the lineup, but it has allowed us to continue to develop our depth."

Neel tallied 12 points for Russell (9-7). Caleb Rimmer added 11.

RUSSELL FG FT REB TP

Quinn 0-4 1-2 2 1

Neel 4-9 4-4 2 12

Rimmer 5-12 1-2 1 11

Pridemore 2-9 2-2 5 6

Fleming 3-6 1-1 3 7

Kaczmarcyk 1-1 0-0 1 2

Cordial 0-0 0-0 1 0

Hewlett 0-0 0-0 0 0

Burnham 0-0 0-0 0 0

Benge 1-1 0-0 0 3

Team 0

TOTAL 15-42 9-11 15 42

FG Pct. 35.7. FT Pct: 81.8. 3-point Fgs: 1-10 (Quinn 0-3, Neel 0-2, Rimmer 0-1, Pridemore 0-1, Fleming 0-2, Benge 1-1) PF: 12. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 8.

ASHLAND FG FT REB TP

Carter 9-16 3-4 9 23

Jennings 2-7 1-1 5 5

Davis 3-6 3-4 4 10

Clarke 1-2 1-2 4 4

Freize 5-8 2-2 7 14

Lalonde 3-3 0-0 2 8

Lyons 1-3 0-0 0 3

Bechtel 0-2 0-0 2 0

Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0 0

Team 0

TOTAL 24-47 10-13 33 67

FG Pct: 51.1. FT Pct: 76.9. 3-point Fgs: 9-19 (Carter 2-5, Lalonde 2-2, Jennings 0-2, Davis 1-2, Freize 2-4, Lyons 1-3, Clarke 1-1) PF: 10. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 8.

RUSSELL 18 6 12 6 — 42

ASHLAND 17 13 20 17 — 67

Officials: Kenny Kegley, Nathan Sutton, Gavin Ramsey

(606) 326-2671 — msparks@dailyindependent.com