Team effort, defense lead Titans to blowout in tourney win

Published 12:04 am Thursday, December 22, 2016

HARRODSBURG — With the game firmly in hand, the Mercer County bench spent most of the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game against Campbellsville worrying more about the Kentucky-Louisville game than the one right in front of them.

The Titans earned that nonchalance by putting away Campbellsville early in a 91-62 win in the first round of the Farmers National Bank Clash of the Titans boys basketball tournament.

The runaway started late in the first quarter after Campbellsville pulled within 14-11. From there, Mercer went on a 10-0 run to end the quarter and used a 12-0 run early in the second to hold a 40-13 lead midway through the second.

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The Titans turned up the defensive pressure, using turnovers and defense to create its offense to start the blowout.

“We started getting a little more solid,” Mercer coach Kurt Young said of his team’s defense. “I think early we were making some gambles and going for steals instead of letting them make mistakes.

“The big thing was we started scoring enough for us to get in a rhythm defensively.”

Mercer had 11 steals, with Kaelin Drakeford coming up with four swipes. The defensive effort is something the Titans work on in practice, according to junior Trevon Faulkner.

“We just try to come out and win on the defensive side, and we know when we’re good on the defensive side, our offense is going to come,” Faulkner said.

The Titans have eclipsed the 90-point mark twice in eight games this season, and they’re averaging nearly 88 points per game. While Young doesn’t have a point total threshold he wants to meet each game, their style lends itself to high-scoring games.

“It’s about possessions for us and playing the right way,” Young said. “If we can play at a certain pace, get a certain number of possessions and take good shots, the rest takes care of itself.”

Mercer (5-3) nearly doubled up the Eagles at halftime, holding a 50-26 lead. Twelve players saw the court in the first half, with Trevon Faulkner scoring 10 of his team-high 14 points and Rhyan Lanham adding nine of his 11.

In the game, all 15 Mercer players saw the court and 14 of them scored. In addition to Faulkner and Lanham, Jon Dunning (11 points) and Garrett Dean (11) also reached double figures. Drakeford and Gunnar Gillis each added nine points.

“You learn through experience,” Young said. “We want them learning now rather than later. We don’t want to bail them out, we don’t want to call timeouts when they’re in a tough situation, and these kids are starting to grow from that.”

While his point total was eight below his season average, Faulkner was vital in other roles. After the Eagles (1-7) opened the second half with a 10-3 run, Faulkner scored two straight baskets to put the Titans back up by 21.

“We’re playing him at the point guard spot, which is something new for him, and he’s so unselfish. We even had to tell him at halftime, ‘Hey, be a little more selfish,’” Young said. “Very few teams can stop him. That’s a tough balance because he’s a great kid, and he does such a great job of picking his spots.”

The unselfishness carried over to the rest of the team. At one point in the second half, Dean had a wide open layup but passed it to teammate Grayson Blevins for the open layup, and Blevins paid it forward later on.

“You don’t see that often, and I think that’s a sign of a great group of young men,” Young said.

While Faulkner and the starters saw court time in the fourth quarter, the final frame belonged to the second and third wave of Mercer players, allowing the starters to spend ample time on the bench. And while they were there, the goings on in Louisville were toward the front of their minds.

Faulkner admitted it was hard to keep focus on the Campbellsville game with that score being what it was and how close the Louisville win turned out to be.

“Coach always beats it in our head and keep our focus on the game,” Faulkner said. “The biggest thing is to put our foot on their throat and beat them. … We were trying to have fun as well. It was hard to ignore (the UL-UK game).”

The win sets up a semifinal matchup with Boyle County, which beat Louisville Eastern 60-56 behind Bryce Slone’s 20 points. Faulkner said the matchup means a little more because of the familiarity between the two schools, and Young knows the game will be a battle of different styles.

“Our job, as big a game as it is, is to play against ourselves,” Young said. “If we do what we’re supposed to, we’re pretty good. If we don’t, we’re going to struggle. Hopefully it’s a big game for both programs just because it’s a chance to play basketball and have some fun.”

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn

Clash of the Titans

CAMPBELLSVILLE 11 15 19 17 — 62

MERCER COUNTY 26 24 24 17 — 91

CAMPBELLSVILLE (1-7) — Taylor 21, Bottoms 2, Lay 6, Cole 13, Wilson 19, Bottoms 1, Cox 2.

MERCER COUNTY (5-3) — Lewis Jackson 2, Carter Baughman 3, Seth Tatum 4, Jon Dunning 11, Andrew Bray 6, Grayson Blevins 4, Trevon Faulkner 14, Aaron Johnson 2, Rhyan Lanham 11, Nathan Tatum 2, Kaelin Drakeford 9, Gunnar Gillis 9, Garrett Dean 11, Nick Price 3.