HALL OF FAME
WHITAKER BANK/KHSAA BOYS' SWEET 16: Can Bardstown break through?
March 19, 2014Bardstown High School
Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 10:37 pm
In seven previous trips to the Sweet 16, Bardstown has never made it past the first round.
Could this be the year the Tigers break that drought? The magic 8-ball doesn’t necessarily say yes, but the signs do point to that possibility.
Their first-round opponent Thursday at 6:30 p.m. is Pleasure Ridge Park, a veteran of 14 appearances including last year, when they fell 65-60 in the first round to Covington Holmes.
Tough to tell from computer rankings how the teams measure up to each other. The Courier-Journal’s Litratings say PRP (26-7) is nine points better than Bardstown. The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Cantrall Ratings say it’s a bit closer, about a 2.5-point margin. I’m not sure how or if that considers the Panthers’ top player, Lamontray Harris, being suspended for the first-round matchup with Bardstown (26-6). Or, whether comparing scores means anything, as Bardstown beat Bullitt East by three points a few weeks ago, and PRP beat the Chargers by three in the 6th Region championship.
And at this point, does it really matter? From my experiences, you never know what might happen once you get to the Sweet 16. That’s why they play the games.
“It’s a dream come true, really, but it’s not finished,” said Bardstown junior guard L.J. Cowherd, who leads a balanced team in scoring at 12.6 per game. “It’s not a finished dream come true. We can’t be satisfied. We’ve got to go out here and think we’re trying to win the state tournament. We can’t just win the region and be satisfied.”
That’s going to be a big key
in my mind — as long as Bardstown doesn’t fall into the trap of just being happy to be there, they can do some damage.
But they wouldn’t be the first team to go to Rupp Arena and get blinded by the lights or freaked out by the crowd, waking up midway through the first quarter to a double-digit deficit.
“I think my team is pretty down to earth, and their mind’s focused,” said senior center Seivon Schooling, the 5th Region’s co-player of the year, who averages 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. “I think they’ll be all right when we get to the court and play.”
In addition to anchoring the Bardstown interior defense, he’s perhaps the Tigers’ most indispensible player, and a guy who will have his work cut out for him in dealing with the PRP size.
“He’s had his work cut out for him all year,” coach James “Boo” Brewer said of Schooling. “He’s held his own all year. … I just look for him to have a big state tournament.”
The current players got to watch the last time and soak in the environment. There will be some nerves, they admit, but that’s part of it.
“Just take a deep breath,” junior guard Keanu Young said with a smile. Young averages 10.6 points a game, just another example of the Tigers’ balanced, unselfish style. It’s a style that’s predicated on smothering full-court pressure defense, with the offense feeding off that.
“It’s our defense — we’re starting to click on defense again,” he said. “Ever since the first half of that Thomas Nelson game, we’ve been clicking on D.”
Bardstown held its regional opponents to 52 points or fewer each game, finding an extra gear that — along with 50 percent shooting on offense in the region — lead me to believe this team has pushed through what most folks thought was their ceiling.
“These guys love each other, they play together,” said Brewer, the 5th Region’s co-Coach of the Year who also guided the Tigers to the Sweet 16 in 2011, his first season. He speaks to a synergy and an unselfish streak that has served the team well. That, and a tremendous work ethic.
“It’s kind of hard to keep them from the gym, because they like to shoot after (practice),” he said. “That right there, that hunger that they have, it showed in the district. They knew they had five games to win, and they went out and won all five games by double digits.”
Brewer said that speaks to a team maturity, an ability to handle whatever situation is presented to them. A tough regular-season schedule that featured games against 7th Region champ Trinity and 11th Region champ Scott County has helped as well, and plenty of big games should help keep the nerves under control.
“We just try to stay focused,” said senior guard Tavon Johnson, who averages a fourth-best on the team 9.2 points a game, but was the team’s leading scorer in the region semifinals and championship. “We’re playing at Rupp Arena, and none of the guys were on the team playing when we went my freshman year, so we just try to stay calm and go out and play basketball like we know how to play.”
This team does have a calmness and poise about it, something a little different from the previous Tiger teams I’ve covered at state. An ability to look at the big picture helps.
“We can’t go out thinking ‘This is the Biggest. Game. Ever.’” Cowherd said. “We’ve got to treat it like it’s the biggest game, but at the same time we can’t. If we go out there thinking, ‘If I screw up today, I screw up in front of 20,000 people.’ We’ve just got to play our game.”
And that all boils down to defense, and making the opponent uncomfortable.
The Tigers are a deep team, with talented players on the bench who could start elsewhere, players willing to accept their roles to make the team better.
“They get to watch
their opponent from the bench and see what they can do and what they can’t do, so when they get out there, they’re ahead of schedule,” Brewer said.
He gets the luxury of throwing waves of people at opponents, with a number of interchangeable role players such as the guard tandem of Young, Johnson and Cowherd, do-everything forward Nicolas DeVillalobos, and key bench players such as Dallan Goldring, Quindon Litsey and Jalen Stone, who have all had key moments this year. And they all practice what Brewer preaches: defense.
“Everybody contributed,” Goldring said. “Since everybody had the same goal (to win the region), we knew our defense would be there.”
This team has the makeup to advance. If they can get past that first game, who knows what might await?