Aces ready for All 'A' challenge

Jan. 26—The Owensboro Catholic High School boys basketball team is entering the opening round of the All 'A' Classic small-school state tournament Thursday with an abundance of confidence, but the Aces know they'll have to be focused to come away with a win.

Catholic (18-2) is scheduled to face the 4th Region's Cumberland County (9-12) at 8:30 p.m. CT at Eastern Kentucky University's McBrayer Arena in Richmond.

"When we've been motivated for a game, we've played well," said OCHS coach Tim Riley, whose team is making its seventh consecutive appearance in the All 'A' Classic. "I think our kids will be excited and ready to play well.

"(Cumberland County) has won nine out of their last 14 games. They won some tough games in the 4th Region to get there, and I feel like they're going to bring a whole lot of people to the game. This is the first time they've ever been to a state tournament."

Setting the tone early will be key, Riley noted.

"We've just got to force our will on the game," he said. "I look at their schedule, and they're not playing anybody we've played. If we force our will on the game, we'll be fine."

The Aces enter Thursday averaging 69.2 points per game on 44.2% shooting from the field, 37.4% from 3-point distance and 62.2% from the free-throw line. Brian Griffith, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, leads the way with 21.9 points per game, with other production coming from 5-11 senior guard Parker Gray (12.6 ppg) and 6-foot sophomore guard Luke Beickman (9.8 ppg), among others.

Tutt Carrico (10.2 ppg, 8 rpg), a 6-1 junior wing, has been dealing with a sore back and may not be available.

If Carrico can't play, Riley said, crashing the boards will have to be a team-wide effort.

"We all have to go rebound defensively," he said. "We got to send five people to the glass on the defensive end and rebound collectively. That's everybody's responsibility. The worst thing about Tutt being out is he's our best rebounder, so if he doesn't play, we have to do it as a group."

The Panthers, meanwhile, are scoring 62.5 points per outing on 44.2% shooting from the field, 34.2% from long range and 56.2% at the foul line. They're led by 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Zachery Harwood (12.3 ppg, 9 rpg) but feature a balanced group of contributors.

"They've got seven guys averaging 6 points or more a game," Riley said. "They only have one in double figures, but they have shooters and they have size. They have 6-5, 6-4, 6-2 guys around the rim. They've got a nice team."

The winner of Thursday's contest will play again Friday night. The tournament semifinals are scheduled for Saturday, with the champiosnhip game Sunday afternoon.