Game 3 preview: Scott County vs. Fleming County

mfields@herald-leader.comMarch 18, 2014 

Fleming County's Troy Steward, who was named most valuable player of the 16th Region Tournament, leads the Panthers in scoring at nearly 23 points a game.

SCOTT COUNTY

Region: 11th | Record: 32-3 | Enrollment: 2,403

Coach's résumé

Billy Hicks, the all-time winningest coach in state history with 861 victories, has led Scott County to 10 state tournaments in 20 years, including state titles in 1998 and 2007. He also coached Corbin to a Sweet Sixteen.

Starters

No. Player Ht. Yr. Ppg.

12 Trent Gilbert 6-1 Sr. 26.0

23 Teddy Ware 6-1 Sr. 12.0

22 Raekwon Long 7-1 So. 10.8

32 Tony Martini 6-3 Sr. 9.2

24 Matt Murray 6-0 Sr. 4.2 Scouting report

The Cards have all the pieces of a title team. Gilbert can be counted on to get his points by hitting threes and mid-range jumpers, or getting to the rim and finishing or cashing free throws. He was 0-for-7 on threes in the region finals against Henry Clay but still had 24 points. Ware is a long-range threat and a good finisher in transition. Long can get lost in an up-tempo game, but in the halfcourt can present problems. Martini is the glue guy. "I just try to do little things — play defense, rebound, get some steals, set solid screens — anything to help us win," Martini said. "He's the one guy we've got to have on the floor," Hicks said. The key this week? "Getting kids to focus on playing THAT game and not the big picture. If you do that, it'll overwhelm you." Carbon-copy Cards?

Hicks' 1998 state title team at Scott County had a star shooting guard in Rick Jones, a three-point specialist in Casey Alsop, a 6-3 scrapper in Toby Harris, a tough role player in Michael Scaravelli, and a heady all-around guy in A.W. Hamilton. The Cards lost only three games that season. Hicks sees a lot of similarities in this year's Scott County team, which has lost only three times. The Cards have a star shooting guard in Gilbert, a three-point specialist in Ware, a 6-3 scrapper in Martini, and a tough role player in Murray. They don't have a defensive ace like Hamilton, but they do have a 7-foot inside presence in Long. Player to watch

Gilbert, a Mr. Basketball finalist, has evolved from just a shooter to an all-around player. He's still a three-point assassin with a quick trigger — he's hit 115 of 287 threes (40 percent) this season. But he's added a pull-up jumper to his arsenal, and he attacks the rim. He's made 274 of 300 free throws (91.3 percent.) He's also second on the team in assists and steals, and averages 4 rebounds.

Sweet history

The Cardinals, in the state tournament for the 14th time, won state titles in 1998 and 2007, and were runners-up in 1999.

Fleming County

Region: 16th | Record: 24-9 | Enrollment: 669

Coach's résumé

Mark Starns has an overall record of 192-127 in 11 seasons as a head coach. In two years at Fleming County he's led the Panthers to back-to-back region titles. He also took Johnson Central to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. He also coached at Burgin and Henderson County.

Starters

No. Player Ht. Yr. Ppg.

20 Troy Steward 6-4 Sr. 22.8

10 Darion Burns 5-10 Sr. 12.5

11 Austin Crisp 6-0 Sr. 12.1

35 Wilder Williams 6-4 Jr. 10.6

33 Brady Saunders 6-1 Sr. 13.1

Scouting report

It was a good-news, bad-news regular season for the Panthers. The bad news: senior point guard Darion Burns missed the first 21 games recovering from knee surgery. The good news: while Burns was out, his teammates expanded their games, so when Burns returned in early February, the Panthers were a more balanced team. All five starters average in double figures, led by Steward, who has blossomed. Burns is showing signs of getting his old mojo back, too. "Now if teams focus all their attention on Troy and Darion, Austin or Brady or Wilder (9.7 rpg) will step up," Starns said. "I think we're hard to defend." They were impressive in an 82-59 rout of Ashland Blazer in the region finals. "That was close to a perfect game for us," Starns said. "We were hitting on all cylinders."

Starns' seventh heaven

This is Starns' seventh Sweet Sixteen as a coach. He was an assistant to his dad Tommy at Lexington Catholic in 1985. He was on Kelly Wells' staff at Mason County in 2002-04. As head coach, he guided Johnson Central to the 2006 state tournament. And now he's made back-to-back trips with Fleming County. "I never get tired of it," Starns said. Player to watch

Steward did a fair imitation of his second cousin Chris Lofton when he hit nine of 15 threes and had 47 points in a loss to Knott Central last month. Starns said there's an "eerie" parallel between Steward and Lofton. Starns, who was an assistant at Mason County when Lofton was there, said after the Royals lost to Paducah Tilghman in the Sweet Sixteen in Lofton's sophomore season, he and Mason County Coach Kelly Wells told Lofton he was just a shooter and that he needed to learn to put the ball on the floor. Lofton did, and he evolved into a state champ and Mr. Basketball. Last year after Fleming County lost to John Hardin in the Sweet Sixteen, Starns had the same talk with Steward, noting he needed to be more aggressive. Message received, and Steward has been a different player this season.

Sweet history

This is the Panthers' fifth state tournament; they have a 2-4 record.

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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