Titans travel to Corbin after King of the Bluegrass

Published 3:09 pm Thursday, December 28, 2017

The final two weeks of December are always busy on the court.

Mercer County boys will take part in their second tournament in as many weeks starting today at Corbin in the Cumberland Falls Invitational.

Last week, the Titans finished 2-2 in the King of the Bluegrass tournament at Fairdale High School, with losses to Lexington Christian Academy and Walton Verona. Two wins came against two challenging opponents: Anderson County and Pulaski County.

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“I think it was a mixed bag, I think it was a little bit of up, a little bit of down,” head coach Josh Hamlin said. “We had the longest gap in between games since we played West till we played LCA. We had five days, which we’re not accustomed to.”

Against LCA, Mercer’s Mr. Basketball candidate Trevon Faulkner nearly carried the team to victory. He scored a game-high 36 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

“Against LCA, we had not seen that kind of size,” Hamlin said. “They really limited us on the offensive end on the first half, we really struggled. That was more we weren’t making shots than anything they were doing. In the second half, we were able to put some pressure on them and cut their lead to five.”

The Titans had a chance to cut the LCA lead to two with a three-pointer late in the game, but it didn’t fall. The Eagles scored and pushed their lead as Mercer fouled late in the game.

Mercer shot just 35 percent from the floor in the 65-50 loss.  

The second game against Anderson County was a different kind of battle — the two schools weren’t scheduled to play this season but share an out-of-region rivalry, being bordering counties.

“It’s hard when you go play extremely good competition and you’re playing a rival,” Hamlin said. “We ran into Anderson County, it was like all Anderson-Mercer games. It was tight, it was tense. They had runs, we had runs. But it was a good showing from our guys. Trevon and Gunnar (Gillis) both got into early foul trouble in the first half, we had to put some different combinations of players in there and they did a good job.”

Mercer was led by Kaelin Drakeford’s 15 points and nine rebounds. Carter Baughman was next with 13. Faulkner had 12 points.

Another unique game played out next: Pulaski County. The last time the two teams met, it was for the 12th Region championship.

“Against PC, our guys and their guys were ready to play,” Hamlin said. “We got out on them early, we were up 14 or 15 and Trevon and Gunnar both picked up two fouls in about a minute. We ended up having to play different combinations again, we were able to hold a three-point lead and then push it back up in the second half.”

Faulkner scored 24 points, Divine had 22 and Baughman added 15 for the Titans.

“Ty Divine had a great game,” Hamlin said. “Trevon had a great overall game. He did such a good job passing the basketball and getting everyone involved. It was a total team win against Pulaski.”

Mercer fell 62-55 in the final game against Walton Verona. Faulkner scored 38 points — including a 15-for-18 performance from the foul line — and had 10 rebounds.

The week was a busy one but one that Hamlin said helped push every player on the team.

“It’s one of those things, we’ve got guys with a senior tag or a junior tag by their name, but when you look at their varsity experience, they don’t have a whole lot of it,” he said. “Any time you can get kids into a game of that caliber, of that prestige, it’s King of the Bluegrass, it’s just something that’s going to help you. We told them, ‘it’s like us having the Thursday draw of the state tournament. You’ve got to play Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, to get to where you want to be.

“That’s the way we approached it, a state or region tournament-type atmosphere. Great crowds; different officials than what you’re accustomed to; solid teams, no cakewalks or pushovers. It was one of those things that you’re playing in a new environment, we played in different gyms, different backdrops. We just approached it with that feel and I thought our kids responded pretty well to it. Any time you can get kids into those type of games aside from Trevon, Gunnar, Carter and Kaelin, guys that have done it before, then it just adds to that depth of talent and gives them experience in meaningful moments. That’s very, very important.”

Now, Mercer will head to Corbin for a post-Christmas tournament.

Mercer will face Corbin and their own Mr. Basketball candidate in Andrew Taylor in the first game, today at 8:30 p.m.

“We’re going down to the Cumberland Falls, it’s a great event and it’s been going on for 30-plus years,” Hamlin said. “They do a wonderful job putting it on, it’s first class all the way through. It’s a solid field, we get a very good test night one (tonight) against Corbin. Two Mr. Basketball candidates in Trevon and Andrew Taylor. This is always a well-attended event, it’s just one of those things, when you put a headline matchup like a Trevon Faulkner and Andrew Taylor, you’re going to get even more of the local crowd.

“It’s going to be another raucous atmosphere for our kids, which is good. We want to play in these games that will test us. Our record might not be what some people are expecting, but we’re going anywhere and everywhere to be challenged. You win the games in March that matter. That’s what we’re striving toward.”

It’s a special week for Hamlin — his son Knox turned one on Wednesday — as he graduated at Corbin and played for Redhounds’ coach Tony Pietrowski.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Hamlin said. “I played for Coach Petrowski, I was his first graduating class. It’s going to be bittersweet for me, I’ll see a lot of people I know. But once the ball is tipped, I’ll block all of that stuff out, I’m not really worried about it. We’ve got a chance to go down and make a statement. It’s a tough region to play in, different style of officiating. It’s just another challenging situation that will make us better.”