Boys state quarterfinal: Dragons disrupt Tomcats: Warren Central pulls away from Ashland down the stretch

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Mar. 17—LEXINGTON — Ashland saw its impressive season come to an end just a few games shy of the ultimate goal on Friday after the team lost to Warren Central, 64-48, in the quarterfinals of the Boys' Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena.

"Obviously, we matched up against a very talented and together group with Warren Central," Ashland interim coach Ryan Bonner said. "I thought we hung in there for essentially four quarters. They stretched it late, but we just had too many consecutive empty possessions against them. For a team that good and talented, when you have that many empty possessions, they'll make you pay."

The Dragons are listed as the No. 1 team in the state, according to the RPI on KHSAA's website.

"To hold a team that shoots that good to just 48 points, it is pretty good," Warren Central coach William Unseld said. "We knew it would be tough. We made the plays when we needed to. In state tournament games, you're not always going to be sharp, but you'll make plays when you need to."

The last time these two teams met was on Dec. 28, 2019. The Tomcats took that one 59-55.

The Tomcats kept even with the Dragons through the first four minutes of the opening frame, and found pay dirt early from the perimeter.

Zander Carter, Rheyce Deboard, and Tucker Conway all hit 3-pointers in the first quarter.

"When you watch these guys interact with each other, even off the floor, it's all smiles, high fives, and pats on the back," Bonner said. "It's a lot of positive encouragement that leads to great things. As far as on the court, they're gritty and they're tough. I saw it in the game against Owensboro, in their eyes, they weren't going to walk of that court without a W. They're a gritty bunch. That's who we are as Ashland Tomcats."

Ashland found ways get past Warren Central's size, however a couple of costly fouls and turnovers opened the door for the Dragons to pull ahead in the latter half of the frame.

Trailing 18-13 in the second quarter, Ashland started hot again from the 3-point-line, and managed to pull within one halfway through the frame at 24-23.

Warren Central managed to create separation once again to close the second quarter, leading 34-27 at halftime.

At the break, Deboard led in scoring with 12 points.

The Dragons had Chappelle Whitney and Kade Unself with 11 points.

The Tomcats recorded nine assists on 10 made shots.

"It was a testament to them making shots," Unseld said when asked why it was so close for much of the game. "When you shoot like that, you're going to stay in the basketball game. The game could've changed a couple of times. I think we did a better job in the second half to make sure they didn't get loose balls."

Ashland was shooting at 53% for the first half.

"The first portion of our gameplan, offensively, was to break their pressure," Bonner said. "We knew they were going to pressure us the full court and we knew we had to do something to make sure they weren't turning us over. We kept Rheyce and Carter up top, splitting that pressure defense so we could get it across. Once we got it across, we wanted to make sure we had great spacing. That opened up the 3-point line for us a little bit. We had some really good looks in the first half."

The shooting got spotty in the third frame for both squads.

Neither team shot particularly well in the third quarter, with Warren Central at 31% and Ashland at 36% for the frame.

The Dragons managed a small 6-0 run in the middle of the quarter that helped them increase the margin to 45-36 heading into the final quarter.

Ashland's first-round hero, Braxton Jennings, hit an early fourth quarter 3-pointer to try to give the Tomcats a spark.

Unfortunately for Ashland, they couldn't get enough stops on the defensive end to create an opportunity to gain back adequate ground.

"It was tough," Bonner said of trying to stop the Dragons' offense. "They were shooting close to 40% from the 3 going into tonight, so we knew their potency from the 3-point line. They also push with tempo in transition and they have guys that can finish at the rim and attack.

As time became a factor, Ashland tried one last gasp to get into striking distance, but it wasn't meant to be.

After both teams gave their bench a chance on the court, Warren Central secured the victory.

Deboard led all scorers with 21 points. The senior was also named to the All-Tournament team following the game.

The Dragons were led by Whitney with 20.

Bonner was named interim coach just days before the start of the season, but managed to guide his team to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

Following the game, during the media scrum, Deboard, Carter, and Nate Freize were asked if they thought Bonner should have the "interim" tag removed from his title.

"Yes," Carter said without a moments hesitation. "Everything he does for us, not just on the floor. The relationship we have off the court is special. I'd love to have him as head coach for the rest of my years here."

"This was my last year, but he's hands down one of the best coaches I've ever had in my life," Deboard added. "I would love to see him come back and coach these players. He's a good coach and I love him."

"He's a great guy," Frieze said. "Being an Ashland alum, he knows our program well and really cares for us. He's a great coach and has definitely shown that he can run this program as well as anyone else can."

Warren Central moves on the semifinal round. The Dragons will face Woodford County today at 11 a.m.

"We just have to go play and make shots," Unseld said. "I think we can matchup with them. It's going to be whomever make shots, takes care of the basketball and who gets rebounds. Basketball is real easy. If you do those things, we'll be OK."

ASHLAND FG FT REB TP

Carter 5-11 2-2 2 14

Adkins 0-3 0-0 2 0

Conway 1-2 0-0 0 3

Deboard 8-11 3-4 2 21

T. Davis 0-3 0-0 2 0

Lalonde 0-1 0-0 0 0

C. Davis 0-0 0-0 0 0

Jennings 2-3 0-0 3 6

Lyons 0-0 0-0 0 0

Clarke 0-0 0-0 0 0

Freize 2-5 0-0 3 4

Strader 0-1 0-0 0 0

TEAM 3

TOTAL 18-40 5-6 17 48

FG Pct.: 45.0 FT Pct.: 83.3. 3-pointers: 7-21 (Jennings 2-3, Carter 2-4, Deboard 2-4, Conway 1-2, Adkins 0-1, Lalonde 0-1, Strader 0-1, T. Davis 0-2, Frieze 0-3). PF: 13. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 13

W. CENRAL FG FT REB TP

Walkup 3-6 0-0 2 6

Villafuerte 2-6 0-0 3 5

Unseld 4-7 3-3 5 13

Glover 6-7 2-4 3 14

Whitney 6-13 8-10 10 20

Jefferson 1-1 0-0 3 2

Wells 2-3 0-0 0 4

Barnett 0-0 0-0 0 0

Hammer 0-0 0-0 0 0

Boards 0-0 0-0 0 0

TEAM 0

TOTAL 24-43 13-17 26 64

FG Pct.: 55.8. FT Pct.: 76.5. 3-pointers: 3-9 (Unseld 2-4, Villafuerte 1-3, Wells 0-1, Whitney 0-1). PF: 9. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 9.

ASHLAND 13 14 9 12 — 48

W. CENTRAL 18 16 11 19 — 64

Officials: Trey Hargrove, Kyle Stewart, Michael Stokes