For the first eight minutes Thursday afternoon, Fern Creek looked like a team that had never been to a Sweet Sixteen before.
The Tigers had a good excuse for that. They had never been to a Sweet Sixteen before.
Fern Creek junior Ahmad Price spoke after the game of a Rupp Arena floor that was slightly bigger than he and his teammates were used to. Price also mentioned some early “jitters” and the imposing “bright lights” of the cavernous college basketball venue.
The state tournament first-timers figured things out pretty quickly.
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Fern Creek shot 83.3 percent from the floor over the final three quarters and defeated Hopkinsville 81-64 in the first round of the boys’ Sweet Sixteen, delivering the first state tournament victory for a school that opened 94 years ago.
“After the first quarter, I thought we settled in,” said Tigers Coach James Schooler. “It felt like we were back on a regular high school court and just doing what we normally do.”
Box score: Fern Creek 81, Hopkinsville 64
Fern Creek led Hoptown 14-10 after the first period, despite shooting just 5-for-18 from the floor over those first eight minutes. Schooler’s team ended the first quarter on a 9-1 run, and the Tigers made it an 18-1 run before Hoptown finally hit a free throw with 5:33 left before halftime.
The 6th Region champs from Louisville were 11-for-13 from the field in the second quarter, making their final seven shots to jump out to a 37-22 halftime lead.
“We took a more conscious effort to get easy transition buckets,” Schooler said. “And that makes our offense look a lot better, when we can score off defensive turnovers. … Offensively, we tried to bring their players up higher on the floor so we could run a few more slips and get easy (shots) by the basket.”
Fern Creek’s Chance Moore — the team’s leading scorer — also took a different approach after being benched early in the first quarter. The versatile, 6-foot-7 senior was settling for jumpers in the first few minutes.
“They told me if I get to the basket, it’s going to make the game a lot easier,” Moore said. “So I just came out in the second quarter and tried to get to the basket every time. It’s hard to stop penetration, and we got a lot of easy twos off of it.”
Moore led the Tigers with 21 points, going 9-for-12 from the floor (and 9-for-10 over the final three quarters).
Hoptown — in the state tournament for the fifth time in six years — never got going offensively and shot just 37.7 percent from the field.
“I thought we settled for too many long twos in the first half — challenged shots,” Coach Tim Haworth said. “So we kind of dug a hole. Defensively, for whatever reason, we just were not very good tonight. But give them credit. They had a lot to do with that. That’s the reason why we got beat. It was them.”