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Tomcats tussell with top team: Ashland hangs with Great Crossing in 72-59 loss

Feb. 17—ASHLAND — Great Crossing, the number one ranked team in the state came into Anderson Gym on Saturday looking to give Ashland its toughest challenge of the year.

"We knew coming in they would be tough tougher than a lot of teams," Great Crossing coach Steve Page said. "They're a heck of a team. We came up here for this, 100% for this reason we do late in the season. We needed to be tested on the road and it was a good test for our kids. So going into the district and region be like

The Warhawks delivered on that challenge, winning 73-59 while shooting nearly 70%, but the Tomcats proved they could hang with the best of them throughout the contest.

"It was one of those games where we had to just live with something defensively," Ashland coach Ryan Bonner said. "We kind of sold out on packing our zone in and trying to make it as tough as possible for them to get the ball to Moreno, which was effective. The only part that was ineffective was it opened the floor up for other guys, especially behind the three-point line."

The Tomcats were living from behind the arc in the first quarter.

The home squad drained six treys to start the contest, including a trio of 3s from Nate Feize.

The only points Ashland had that didn't come from 3-point land was a pair of Braxton Jennings free throws.

The Warhawks were able to get into the paint thanks to Malachi Moreno, who had seven points and six rebounds in the first eight minutes.

The Tomcats led 20-19 before a 3 from LJ Holman closed the first quarter with Great Crossing on top by two.

"They don't have the traditional big and we like to leave Malachi (Moreno) in the paint as much as we possibly can for obvious reasons," Page said. "So, we knew they were going to spread it out. I actually told my kids after that the first quarter, they made six 3s and we're still winning, we should feel good."

Freize opened the second frame with the Tomcats' first 2 of the game.

Unfortunately for Ashland, the Warhawks responded to that bucket with an 8-2 run that led to Bonner calling timeout suddenly down 30-24.

Out of the break, Zander Carter found a lane to the basket that was good for two baskets and a trip to the free throw lines which helped the Tomcats get within two at 33-31.

Great Crossing responded with a set of 3s from Holman, Junious Burrell, and Vince Dawson.

Dawson's 3 was at the buzzer to close the first half with his squad up 43-35.

The 3-game was shut down for Ashland in the second quarter, going 0-4 in the frame after making six of eight attempts in the first quarter.

Another significant difference maker in the first half was the rebound differential.

The Warhawks had 14, while Ashland grabbed just four.

"Offensive rebound sometimes is one of our Achilles heels," Page said. "So, to only see us give up three tonight was really good. We got a lot of 50/50 balls. It was a great test for us and, while we usually win the rebounding battle, it's usually not 29-14 like we did today."

Great Crossing looked to be in a rhythm to start the second half.

In particular Jeremiah Godfrey got three quick baskets, punctuated by a one-handed dunk that led to an Ashland timeout, down 55-40.

Freize hit another 3 following the timeout.

Tyson Lalonde decided to keep the 3-ball going with a pair of his own.

The Warhawks responded with a pair of treys from Gabe Richardson and production down low by Dawson to keep their team's lead at double-digits.

The final frame started with Great Crossing up 63-52.

One thing going in Ashland's favor was the turnover situation throughout the night, which helped keep the Tomcats in striking distance.

"We were able to turn them over because of the way we were covering our wings when they would enter the ball to the high post," Bonner said. "They were looking to high low, but we would send two guys down every time the ball went to the middle of the zone to take away that dump down. That's a pass that's normally there for them and then all of a sudden we're dropping those guys, so our wings in that zone did a really good job. That's a build definitely a building block for us going into the postseason"

The Tomcats opened the quarter with a steal and a Jennings dunk.

Unfortunately for Ashland, that was the only points for the team until the 2:45 mark when Lalonde hit a jumper for two.

With the scoring drought and the clock dwindling, Great Crossing was able to keep Ashland at arm's length to the final buzzer.

Dawson's production in the paint helped him get the high-point mark of 20 for the game.

Carter led Ashland with 16.

"What Zander is good about is, he's just so patient offensively," Bonner said. "He just what the defense gives him. Anytime that he's putting the ball on the floor like that and getting downhill, we're dangerous."

Great Crossing is hoping to convert this year's regular-season success into some postseason success.

"They know where we're ranked, but we don't talk about it," Page said. "We were good the last two years, won 27 games and lost in the region semi-finals, so we know that come a week from Monday, everybody is 0-0. We've said the last couple years, 'Oh, we'll get them next year.' We're done with the next year talking. That's what I tell them every day and we've done things differently. Last year we leveled off at the end of the year. We would have lost this game last year because we leveled off. We haven't leveled off this year. We keep getting better and better."

G. CROSSING FG FT REB TP

Dawson 9-12 0-0 4 20

Richardson 4-5 0-0 0 12

Moreno 5-11 2-4 11 12

Holman 4-5 0-0 1 10

Burrell 4-7 0-0 6 10

Godfrey 4-4 0-2 3 9

Warren 0-1 0-0 1 0

Martin 0-0 0-0 2 0

Team 1

TOTAL 30-45 2-6 29 73

FG Pct.: 66.6. FT Pct.: 33.3. 3-pointers: 10-15 (Richardson 4-5, Burrell 2-3, Dawson 2-3 Holman 2-3, Moreno 0-1). PF: 13. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 13.

ASHLAND FG FT REB TP

Carter 5-11 5-8 6 16

Freize 5-8 0-0 0 14

Jennings 4-12 3-4 3 12

Lalonde 2-6 0-0 0 8

Adkins 1-3 2-2 1 5

Davis 1-2 0-0 0 2

Clarke 1-1 0-1 0 2

Team 4

TOTAL 19-43 10-15 14 59

FG Pct.: 44.1. FT Pct.: 66.6. 3-pointers: 9-23 (Freize 4-7, Lalonde 2-5, Adkins 1-1, Carter 1-2, Jennings 1-7, Davis 0-1). PF: 8. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 5.

G. CROSSING 22 21 20 9 — 72

ASHLAND 20 15 17 7 — 59

Officials: Davey Fields, Michael Ginn, PD Harris.

(606) 326-2658 — wadams@dailyindependent.com