LEXINGTON — As much as he’d like to forget them, the only thing Lexington basketball coach Scott Hamilton can’t remember is the last time his game plan against Ashland didn’t focus on how to stop one of the Denbow brothers.
Grant Denbow played in the 2017 News Journal All-Star Classic, Garrett Denbow followed suit in 2019 and Luke Denbow, who set the school’s career scoring record over the holidays, will make it three for three as an obvious all-star selection at the end of the season.
He certainly made a strong bid to be the first player taken in the Classic draft in a few weeks by scoring a career-high 37 points Friday night as his Arrows pulled even with Lex atop the Ohio Cardinal Conference with a 66-48 victory over the host Minutemen.
Denbow converted 14 of his 23 shots from the field, including 5 of 10 from distance, and flirted with breaking the school’s single-game scoring mark of 42 points, set by Tom Malone in 1970.
“I’m tired of seeing a Denbow,” joked Hamilton, who in his 10th year as head coach has had way too many dealings with the three four-year lettermen to count. “They’re icing (Luke’s) arm right now.”
Denbow’s night got off to an inauspicious start when he was whistled for an offensive foul just 33 seconds into the game. But after scoring just four points in the first quarter he finished the first half with 19 and nearly matched that output in the second half, making three of his 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to quell any thoughts of a Lex comeback.
“I had heard that the record was 42, but I wasn’t really worried about it,” the 6-1 senior guard said. “I just wanted to win and get on top of the OCC.”
Although the charging foul was unsettling at first, Denbow eventually warmed to the challenge. Warmed is an understatement.
“I was just reading the defense in the first quarter,” he said. “Other guys were making shots and we were staying in the game, and then in the second quarter I started going.”
Denbow credited team defense for triggering his outburst.
“Defensively, we got after it, limiting Lex with their bigs to one shot, and then we’d get the rebound and go,” he said. “I thrive in transition and want to score in transition as much as possible, and I think I did that tonight.”
The season series between the two teams is complete, with the visiting team winning both games. Ashland avenged a 73-71 loss at home on Dec. 3 to improve to 9-4 overall and 5-2 in the OCC for a share of first place in the league with the Minutemen (10-3, 5-2).
“I have to give our kids a lot of credit,” Ashland coach Jason Hess said. “Defensively, they bought into our game plan as far as guarding the paint and making Lex jump shooters.
“I really think we took away a lot of what they wanted to do. I think that was the biggest difference, holding them under 50 after giving up more than 70 the first time.”
One of the keys to the outcome was Ashland’s response when 6-4 Luke Jurjevic, its only real length in the lineup, went to the bench with two fouls at 5:22 of the second quarter. Lex failed to capitalize on its decided height advantage, getting outscored 13-7 the rest of the half even though Lex’s 6-7 Baden Forup had seven inches on his defender, senior reserve Jack Swaisgood.
When Jurjevic returned in the second half, he made sure Forup never did get untracked. He led Lex with 13 points and nine rebounds, but had only four points after halftime and was never able to solve a double team that pushed him out of the block.
“Give Jack Swaisgood a lot of credit,” Hess said. “He came off the bench and we told him, ‘Jack, you’re in the post; you’re going to have to find a way.’ I thought it was big because it really changed the momentum of the game. The other thing it did, with our five guards on the floor, was open up the offense because we got some drives to the basket (with Lex’s big defenders forced outside to defend the Arrows).”
Hess loved hearing that Denbow talked defense first when asked about his offense.
“We tell the kids all the time, when you play defense, the ball tends to bounce your way. You just have more rhythm,” Hess said. “I think teams are focused on Greyson (Steury, who added 15 points, including a 6-of-7 showing from 2-point range), trying to take him away a little bit more, and that opened things up for Luke.
“It’s so great to see them get excited for each other. One of them makes a shot and the other is the first one over there to high-five him.”
After falling behind 14-6, the Arrows outscored Lex 23-10 the rest of the half and enjoyed a double-digit lead for most of the third quarter. And they did it despite making only 3 of 15 shots from 3-point range.
But they kept shooting. And those bonus shots started falling in the fourth quarter to ignite the pull-away. Ashland was 4 of 7 from deep in the quarter, including Denbow’s three and the other from Landon McFrederick. All of them came in the first couple of minutes to negate two 3-pointers by Lex’s Alex Depperschmidt and Elijah Hudson and keep the Minutemen from getting any closer than 49-41.
With two of Denbow’s 3s still to come, the Arrows finished the game on a 17-7 run.
“We have six or seven guys who have the green light to take shots,” Hess said. “What we try to do is make sure we touch the ball inside so that it’s an inside-out 3 as opposed to just off the dribble. But I’m not surprised when any of them make 3s because they take a lot of shots in practice and they’re all good shooters.”
Lex got 12 points from Caden Eichler, but he was held in check after scoring eight of his team’s first 14 points. What really hurt was starters Jack Depperschmidt and Hudson Moore combining to go 0 for 6 from the field. Moore, in particular, had been big for Lex offensively as the Minutemen jumped to the front of the OCC in the first half of league play.
“We were planning on them trapping us half court, but really what they did was play good half-court man defense and pack everything inside the paint,” Hamilton said.
On the other end of the floor, there was no stopping Denbow.
“We told the guys their other guys probably weren’t going to be capable of beating us,” Hamilton said. “We thought we could defend them. We just needed to put a lot of attention on Denbow. We knew what he was capable of and he came out and proved it tonight.
“I’d say of his 23 shots, six or eight of them we had someone right there contesting it. But when he’s on a roll, it doesn’t matter. He just starts knocking shots down. I’ve seen him enough live and on film over the years that when his confidence is going he’s tough to defend. He’s quick. His first step with the dribble is so quick. If he takes one dribble to the left with a pull-up, it’s lights-out. Going to the right, you’ve got a chance. Going to the left … it’s tough. There’s a reason he was Player of the Year in the conference last year.”
Ashland has now rebounded to win two straight OCC games since a 78-51 loss at Mansfield Senior on Jan. 4.
“That Senior High game, it was embarrassing,” Denbow said. “That one really ticked me off, ticked us all off. The next day in practice we changed our mindset and we’re ready to go now.”
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Luke Denbow scores career-high 37 as Ashland tops Lexington