Titans hold off East Jessamine to secure No. 1 seed in 46th District

Published 12:25 am Saturday, January 27, 2018

HARRODSBURG – They’ll take the win, but the Mercer County boys will have to work a little harder to meet their coach’s standards.

The Titans achieved their primary goal Friday night by beating East Jessamine 79-71, but they also frustrated coach Josh Hamlin by failing to put the Jaguars away after a strong start to the second half.

Mercer built a seemingly comfortable 19-point lead less than three minutes into the third quarter, but the Titans were anything but at ease down the stretch as East Jessamine rallied to within seven points and refused to go quietly.

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“I thought we played well in spurts. I just think our defensive engagement tonight was not very good,” Hamlin said. “We play the way we did tonight, and we’re going home in March. That’s not a knock on East, but that’s the standard we’ve set for ourselves, and we did not reach that tonight.”

The Titans (17-4, 4-0 46th District) did clinch the No. 1 seed for next month’s 46th District Tournament with their ninth consecutive win and their seventh straight victory over East Jessamine.

The Jaguars (10-14, 0-3) made things interesting by making more than half of their shots in the second half. After shooting 37 percent in the first half, they went 9 for 15 from 3-point range and 14 for 25 overall from the field after halftime.

Coach Chris O’Bryan said the Jaguars also showed the kind of fight he wishes he had seen in the first half.

“I told them, ‘We’ve got to figure out how to bring that energy and that effort for 32 minutes,’” O’Bryan said. “We were down 14 (at halftime) and won both (the second and third) quarters, and we had to fight. They proved to themselves that we can compete with anybody and they can play with anybody, and hopefully we can take some positives from this.”

Trevon Faulkner led Mercer with 22 points and 15 rebounds, and three other Titans also scored in double figures: Gunnar Gillis had 18 points, Ty Divine had 17 and Kaelin Drakeford had 12.

Gillis also grabbed 10 rebounds for Mercer, which held a commanding advantage on the boards at 40-24.

“All of our kids rebounded tonight, but I thought Gunnar rebounded exceptionally well,” Hamlin said. “He’s had such an underappreciated season. Without Gunnar doing the little things that he does … we’re not the team that we are.”

O’Bryan noted that his team didn’t get as many over-the-back foul calls on rebounds as he’d like.

“I told them, ‘You don’t get them if you stand there, you’ve got to work,’ and I think we did a little better job of that in the second half,” he said.

Ben Thompson scored 17 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter for East Jessamine. He went 5 for 8 from the field in that period and was 10 for 16 overall.

Jacob Bradshaw scored 14 points, Will O’Bryan had 12 and DeAnte Sanon had 10 for the Jaguars.

Mercer was in control throughout the first half, and it outscored East Jessamine 13-4 over the final 4:35 of the second quarter to take a 37-23 halftime lead.

The Titans pushed their lead to 49-30 early in the second half, getting five points each from Divine and Faulkner in the first three minutes of the third quarter.

Then East Jessamine started hitting 3s. O’Bryan hit three long-range shots and Sanon hit one over the balance of the third period as the Jaguars trimmed the margin to 10 points.

They hit four more in the fourth quarter to stay within striking distance. Thompson sank a 3 off a steal, then answered a Mercer basket with a three-point play to pull the Jaguars within 60-53 with 5:57 remaining, but that was as close as they got.

A 3 by Divine and a three-point play by Gillis gave Mercer a 66-53 lead, and East Jessamine never got closer than eight points again, though they did impress their coach with their effort.

“I love the fact that my kids had all that fight tonight,” O’Bryan said.

Mercer’s Hamlin didn’t love the way the Titans let East Jessamine hang around.

“They played us tough both times, and they’re better than what their record says,” he said. “We have high expectations for our kids and they have high expectations for themselves. Sometimes when you fall short you take for granted a win, and a win in late January is a win no matter what.

“We’re still like every team in the state, looking for that consistency.”

East Jessamine          12        23        44        71

Mercer County          17        37        56        79

EAST JESSAMINE (10-14) – DeAnte Sanon 10, Will O’Bryan 12, Tyler Pitman 4, Ben Thompson 31, Jacob Bradshaw 14.

MERCER (17-4) – Gunnar Gillis 18, Carter Baughman 8, Ty Divine 17, Trevon Faulkner 22, Kaelin Drakeford 12, Jamason Sherrow 2.