Johnson Central tried to step into the role of giant slayer Thursday night, only to get stomped 75-54 by tournament favorite Ballard in the first round of the 96th KHSAA Boys' State Tournament. But the Golden Eagles did put up a fight.
Johnson Central rallied from early deficits of 8-0 and 11-2 to lead briefly in the second quarter, before the giant awoke in Rupp Arena.
"We've been this way a lot this year," Bruins Coach Chris Renner said. "We've been Jekyll and Hyde. We go through stretches where we're really good; we go through stretches where we're not really good.
"Fortunately, throughout the season we've been better in those games than we haven't been better. When you've got three all-star players like these guys, they can really score in bunches."
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The trio accompanying Renner to the post-game press conference were 6-foot-6 junior Kelan Martin (22 points, 8 rebounds), 6-1 junior and University of Louisville recruit Quentin Snider (16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) and 6-0 senior Lavonne Holland (12 points, 6 steals).
They helped Ballard (30-4) into Friday's quarterfinals.
Johnson Central (22-11) got a big effort from Shane Hall. The 6-8 junior finished with 28 points and eight rebounds.
Kyle Gullett came off the Golden Eagles' bench to add 11 points and seven boards. Braxton Blair had 10 points and four assists.
"Louisville Ballard's a great team," Central Coach Tommy McKenzie said. "Does a fantastic job. It's amazing how talented they are, how athletic they are. But they also play hard and, when you have that combination, obviously you've got what it takes to win a state championship. I really think they're capable of doing that.
"On the other hand, I thought our kids played hard. I think there was a couple stretches in the game where we could have played a little bit smarter. Our motto has been all year, 'Play hard, play smart and play together.' ... These guys have done that all year long. Just a couple easy buckets and some free throws away from making this game just a little more competitive than it was."
Ballard's relentless pressure forced 25 turnovers (to 14 for the Bruins), and a 39-29 rebounding advantage included 19 on the offensive glass.
So even though Ballard shot 43.5 percent (30-69) to Central's 50 percent (20-40), the Bruins fired 29 more shots. They finished with a 26-9 advantage in points off turnovers, 18-7 on second-chance points.
Johnson Central led 30-29 when Hall scored.
Ballard closed the half with a 12-1 run over the final three minutes to lead 41-31, scored six of the first nine in the second half, and never let the Eagles back in the game.
Hall, who scored 19 in the first half, was held to one basket in the third quarter.
"When you're a pressing and trapping team like we are, you're not designed specifically to just take one guy away so you're rotating to spots and to areas, and we didn't do a good job of that in the first half when we rotated, bodying up with him," Renner said. "We let him get a lot of touches in the middle of the defense. Really, starting with about three minutes — that last timeout in the second quarter — we started to do that a little more."
Specifically, Martin started to do that more.
"Just trying to limit his points, get him off the glass and just body up and get physical with him," Martin said. "He's pretty good. He's an athlete."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229 Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com