Titans earn gritty win at Boyle County

Published 11:46 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Mercer County boys got the kind of game they were expecting – and they knew just what to do with it.

A good opponent that wasn’t going away. The added spice of a local rivalry. Emotions running high. The Titans dealt with all of those things in a tough test Tuesday night at Boyle County, and they took care of business in a battle between the area’s two winningest teams.

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Mercer outlasted Boyle in the fourth quarter, sinking a handful of key baskets and a host of free throws to win 70-62 at Rebel Arena.

Mercer (16-4) won its eighth consecutive game and improved to 9-0 against 12th Region opponents by surviving the kind of game their coach said they have been preparing for all season.

The defending regional champion has beaten two of the top challengers to its bid to repeat – West Jessamine and Boyle – in the past five days, and coach Josh Hamlin said many of the teams the Titans played prior to those games helped prepare them to repel both challenges.

“We scheduled for this game, we scheduled for West. We had adversity in both games, but we had been there before,” Hamlin said. “And our kids showed resiliency. We didn’t have to call timeouts, we ran through our sets, playmakers made plays at the times they needed to.”

It seemed at first like Mercer might have an easy time of it in a forgettable weeknight game, as Trevon Faulkner and Ty Divine buried two 3-pointers each in the first 3:55 to help the Titans open a 12-3 lead.

This game was anything but easy, however, as Boyle (10-5) battled back from a 21-9 deficit in the second quarter and led by as many as five points in the third before Mercer regained the upper hand.

“It turned into a grit-and-grind game,” Hamlin said. “That’s why I think we’re starting to become a solid team. We can run, we can grind it out and tonight we played some really, really solid defense in the half court against a good offensive team.”

“We dug ourselves a big hole, but I was very, very proud of the guys for keeping their composure and doing what we needed to do to get ourselves back in the game,” Boyle coach Steve Adams said.

Faulkner had 31 points and 10 rebounds and Divine added 18 points to lead Mercer, and the two combined for 22 of their team’s 28 points in the fourth quarter, when Faulkner had 13 and Divine had nine.

The Titans rallied from a 39-34 deficit to take a 42-41 lead into the fourth quarter, and Faulkner scored five points in the first minute of the period to cap a 13-2 run that made it 47-41.

Boyle battled back to within two points, but Mercer rebuilt its lead to 51-45 behind back-to-back baskets by Divine.

“They hit some awful big shots in that stretch, and they were challenged shots,” Adams said. “You’ve worked so hard and done everything you’re supposed to do, and they hit a tough shot. OK, it happens.”

The Titans had only two field goals in the final 3:45, but they sealed their win by hitting 14 of 16 free throws in the final 1:53. Faulkner went 8 for 8 and Divine and Kaelin Drakeford were each 3 for 4 at the foul line during that stretch for Mercer, which entered the game tied for third in the state in free throw percentage at .765.

“Coach said, ‘Hold onto (the ball), be smart with it, they’re going to start fouling,” Divine said. “And he told us we’re in the top 10 in the state in free throw shooting, so that really gave us a pep talk and we knocked them down.”

The lead changed hands six times during the third quarter, the last when Carter Baughman, who hit three of four 3-point shots and scored 13 points, knocked down a 3 with four seconds left to put Mercer up by one.

Tempers were already beginning to flare and the trash talk was flowing freely from both sides, and Faulkner and Boyle’s Grant Hotchkiss each drew technical fouls as they jawed with each other after Baughman’s bucket.

“They woke the dogs in the second half,” Divine said. “Whenever a team can come through with all that turmoil on the court, that just has to show you something right there.”

There were no further technicals or trouble, and Mercer’s players came together at a time when some teams might come apart.

“I think we’ve played pretty well through turmoil this year,” Divine said. “Us seniors – me, Gunnar (Gillis) and Trevon – we come up to each other and talk it over and make sure it’s all right and we know what sets to run, what defenses to run, and really we just play our game.”

Mercer sank five 3-point shots in the first 5 1/2 minutes and finished 8 for 15 from behind the line, and the Titans shot 54 percent overall from the field. Boyle shot just 29 percent from the field in the first half and finished at 37 percent.

Jason Alexander scored 18 points in the second half and led the Rebels with 24 on 7-of-11 shooting. Reese Smith scored 15 points and Bryce Slone added 10 for the Rebels.

Hotchkiss had eight rebounds and Smith had seven for Boyle, which outrebounded Mercer 29-27.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight, but we did some good things,” Adams said. “We’re still not good at some things that we’re working on and we want to get better at … but we’re going to get there. I feel very good about where we are because of the competition we’ve beaten.”

Mercer County          17        25        42        70

Boyle County 9          21        41        62

MERCER (16-4) – Carter Baughman 13, Ty Divine 18, Trevon Faulkner 31, Kaelin Drakeford 4, Gunnar Gillis 2, Jamison Lewis 2.

BOYLE (10-5) – Reese Smith 15, Grant Hotchkiss 9, Jason Alexander 24, Bryce Slone 10, Will Bramel 4.