Lesson learned from the best: No. 1 Titans thump Danville, 76-37

Published 11:20 pm Monday, December 11, 2017

HARRODSBURG — Danville’s girls basketball team learned what it takes to compete at a state championship level on Monday.

The Admirals lost to No. 1 Mercer County 76-37 Monday in Harrodsburg, and their coach said it was a great learning experience for his young team.

“That’s what I want them to understand, this is the standard,” head coach Clifford Berry said. “We are privileged to have the No. 1 team in the state in our region. I love it. That’s the bar. That’s what we’re trying to get to. Some of our girls that might have thought they were there now know that they have a lot of work to do. I love to have this game. It’s tough on them and their psyche. But there’s no sense in getting mad, we’ve got to get back in the gym and get better. That’s what I want to see the next couple of weeks.”

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Mercer showcased a killer press in the first three minutes of the game — Danville didn’t get the ball past half court before the Titans had a 10-0 lead.

“We’ve still got a lot of growing up to do. A lot of it is, I knew they were rattled,” Berry said. “They were a little shaken up. We had a little bit of adversity, but like I tell them, you’ve gotta keep playing. A lot of them haven’t played enough that a 10 point deficit is really nothing. They think, ‘No. 1 team in the state, 10 point deficit,’ that just makes things difficult.”

Danville’s Ivy Turner responded, scoring seven of the next 10 points in the game. But after one quarter, the Titans led 22-9.

The game was Mercer’s second in three days after beating another top-ranked team, Sacred Heart, on Saturday. The Titans came back to win in the final minute, 65-63.

“We told the kids, ‘if I was (Berry) trying to sell today’s game, they just had an emotional win on Saturday, expect a letdown,’” Mercer head coach Chris Souder said. “That’s what I would’ve been preaching to my team. So we talked to our kids, we had a good practice yesterday and we tried to iron some things out that we weren’t doing very good. I really liked the energy that we came out with tonight.”

Souder praised Berry and his willingness to play youth in his effort to continue building the Admirals’ program.

“It’s this early in the season, we’re playing nationally ranked teams, region teams,” Souder said. “Scheduling is getting hard. The fact that we’re playing a region team, we don’t take anyone for granted. Clifford is doing a great job in terms of how he’s trying to build his program. He’s playing young kids, he’s trying to get up-tempo and he’s trying to get after it. I told him before the game that I think he’s doing the right thing and trying to build a program.”

Mercer pushed its lead to 53-26 at halftime and had three players in double figures at the break: Faith Lake and Emmy Souder each had 12 points and Channing Lewis scored 11.

“We also learned that we’ve got to guard somebody,” Berry said. “We’ve got to be able to play man-to-man defense. I’m not a zone guy, I hate playing zone. I want to play man-to-man and see if we can get better. This entire year is going to be a learning experience, for me and for them. If we can keep them up, we have a chance to bounce back on Friday.”

The Admirals stayed aggressive on offense and drew fouls, something that coach Souder said his team had to adapt to.

“We had to adjust, the officials were calling a much tighter game than they were on Saturday night,” he said. “We talked about that too, you’re going to have to see those. Those are part of the game, you’ve got to make adjustments, you can’t keep doing it. It’s also good, too, to throw some young kids in there and see how they handle things.”

Berry praised his freshmen trio of Lara Akers, Jenna Akers and Ahyana Burnett after the game. The lights were bright, but he liked the way they learned throughout the game.

“I keep seeing Ahyana getting better. She’s one of our best on-ball defenders,” Berry said. “Once she stops playing so much with her hands, she’ll be one of the best defenders in the region. But most of my young ones, they’ve just got to have the confidence to shoot the ball. You’re not going to see that pace in a JV game. The Akers twins, they proved that they’re great athletes. When they play downhill and aggressive, we’re a different team. When they’re passive, they let the physicality of the game affect what they do, that’s where we get beat. They have to attack and stay aggressive, and I think they’re learning that.”

Souder’s program build at Mercer wasn’t too dissimilar to what Berry is doing at Danville, and he said he had big losses when his current group of stellar seniors were in eighth grade.

“When you’re going to commit to playing seventh and eighth graders at the varsity level, you’re going to take some lumps,” coach Souder said. “You just have to be willing to stick to it. When this bunch was eighth graders, we went to Butler and got beat by 30, 40 points a couple of times. But we talked about this, this is for the long haul and this is for our program. (Berry) has got Ivy Turner to kind of set the show for him. She’s a good player, she’s as good as anybody in the 12th Region. And she seems real patient, seems like she knows she has young teammates out there.”

Mercer’s schedule continues with a quick turnaround with games against East and West Jessamine this week: The Titans face East Jessamine tonight and will host West Jessamine on Friday.

Danville has time before its first district game, something that Berry noted after the game.

“We’ve got till January before our first district game,” he said. “We’ve got time. This next stretch of the season, we just have to use that to get better, gain experience … There’s just simple things about the game that we’ve got to learn, it’s going to take time.”