Hot start leads Mercer over Boyle in tourney semi

Published 12:59 am Friday, December 23, 2016

HARRODSBURG — Without much time to dissect film and pour over scouting reports, Mercer County boys basketball coach Kurt Young wanted his team to come out and simply play its game in Thursday’s matchup with Boyle County.

Young admitted the Titans are tough to beat when they stick to their game plan, and they were just that against the Rebels, opening up a double-digit lead early in the Farmers National Bank Clash of the Titans semifinal and cruising to an 83-62 win.

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“Our guys did a good job of stepping up with their intensity to start the game,” Young said. “They’re starting to figure it out a little bit, and what we’re doing a better of job of is pressuring without fouling and being solid.

“For the most part, we’re going to play our way. If we play our system, it’s going to disrupt some things, get people out of what they want to do.”

Mercer rolled out of the gates, scoring the game’s first 11 points in about three minutes. Junior Trevon Faulkner drilled three 3-pointers in that span, and even though Boyle guard Jason Alexander hit for two field goals to end the opening salvo, the Titans closed the quarter on an 18-2 run, and Boyle coach Steve Adams knew his squad was in trouble.

“This is what we talked about in the walk through (Thursday), simulated it somewhat in practice. We just didn’t know coming in if — we’re so young and not playing real smart right now — if we were tough enough mentally and physically to do what we needed to do,” Adams said. “Obviously that was answered very quickly.”

To be fair, the Titans had about as much varsity experience returning for this season as Boyle, but that experience came in the form of Faulkner, ranked one of the best players in Kentucky in his class. Faulkner recorded a double-double Thursday, scoring 17 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

But as Young noted, those numbers don’t tell the whole story on Faulkner’s night. The coach said his star could have came in with 35 points, and even though Young fears it might hurt his stats and his chances at statewide postseason awards, it’s not the type of game Faulkner aspires to.

“We’ve encouraged him to look for himself a little bit more and he wouldn’t do it,” Young said. “… Unfortunately, sometimes numbers matter when it comes to All-State, Mr. Basketball, all that, and we wanted to get him a few more looks (Thursday), but he’s over there (on the bench) cheering. You couldn’t ask for a better teammate.”

For only the second time this year, Faulkner didn’t lead the Titans (7-3) in scoring. Junior forward Gunnar Gillis scored 11 of his game-high 18 points in the third quarter; he hit 8-of-11 from the floor and also grabbed six rebounds.

“He’s such a tough kid,” Young said. “When he gets that opportunity, he can score the basketball, he can step out and shoot. He’s coming off football, he’s going to continue to expand that role.

“I haven’t coached many kids who go that hard on every single possession and run the floor the way he does.”

The Titans had 11 players register more than eight minutes of playing time Thursday, and 10 players in total scored. Joining Gillis and Faulkner in double figures, Garrett Dean had 11 points and Rhyan Lanham 10. Those four were the only Mercer players to shoot more than five times.

The unselfish play starts with Faulkner, and Young says its spread to the rest of the team, too.

“That’s something I think will be a strength for us later in the year,” Young said.

Bryce Slone led Boyle with 13 points, and Alexander added 11. The Rebels went 3-of-14 from 3-point range and were outrebounded 41-26.

After being held to six points in the first quarter and not breaking double digits until Slone hit his first bucket, the Rebels (4-5) redeemed themselves with 42 points scored in the second and third quarters, actually outscoring Mercer 36-32 in the second half. However, Adams felt that had more to do with Mercer than anything the Rebels managed to roll out.

“It was more Mercer let up than we did anything,” Adams said. “You’re up 30 (points), you kind of pull it back a little bit. I guess our guys settled down a little bit.”

Boyle will play Muhlenberg County in the tournament’s third place game at 6 p.m. today. Looking at it now, Adams feels more games are the last thing the Rebels need at this point.

“That was a mistake on my part, playing two tournaments here at Christmas,” Adams said. “We need practice time more than we need game time. … It’s just not conducive to what we need to do right now. But it is what it is, we’ll just go back to the practice floor, put it in our rearview mirror and learn from it, try to get better.”

The Titans will try to make it four straight wins as they host Lincoln County in the tournament final at 8 p.m. today. Lincoln beat Muhlenberg 73-70 in Thursday’s first semifinal, and the Patriots figure to give Mercer more of a test than its last three opponents — the Titans have beaten Whitley County, Campbellsville and Boyle County by a combined 69 points.

“They have an unbelievable player in Noah Young; the more I watch him, the more I like him,” coach Young said. “It’s going to be an unbelievable test for us because they are a very good, well-coached team.”

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn

Clash of the TItans

BOYLE COUNTY 6 20 22 14 — 62

MERCER COUNTY 29 22 25 7 — 83

BOYLE COUNTY (4-5) — Reese Smith 8, Will Imfeld 2, Jason Alexander 11, Bryce Slone 13, Matthew Bodner 5, Grant Hotchkiss 3, Evan Shields 2, Landon Bartleson 2, Dylan Fredrick 6, Will Bramel 6, Cameron Yates 1, Karson Thompson 3.

MERCER COUNTY (7-3) — Carter Baughman 5, Seth Tatum 4, Jon Dunning 5, Andrew Bray 5, Grayson Blevins 4, Trevon Faulkner 17, Aaron Johnson 4, Rhyan Lanham 10, Gunnar Gillis 18, Garrett Dean 11.