Eastern and Chris Dowe weren't on anybody's radar when the basketball season began, but the Eagles and their senior standout are flying high now, and everybody better take notice.
Led by Dowe's 27 points and a dominant team effort on the boards, Eastern beat Corbin 75-61 in the first round of the National City Boys' Sweet Sixteen before 13,533 fans in Rupp Arena Wednesday night.
The Eagles, who didn't crack the pre-season top 25, improved to 31-2 and Dowe solidified his status as the breakout star of the year.
"At the beginning of February his junior year, it's amazing how Chris decided to just commit to do what he needed to do," Coach Jason Couch said.
"The sky's the limit for him, and you saw that tonight. He had an outstanding game."
The 6-foot-3 Dowe had plenty of help against Corbin.
Delquan Thomas, a 6-foot-1 junior, had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Lyonell Gaines, a 6-4 sophomore, had 10 points and 12 rebounds, and sophomore Remy Abell added 10 points. Eastern outrebounded Corbin 49-30. Redhounds Coach Tony Pietrowski said that was the key to the game.
"One thing we had to do was keep them off the offensive glass, and we didn't do that tonight," he said.
Eastern had 27 second-chance points to just four for the Redhounds.
The Eagles had to fight off a Corbin team led by Josh Crawford. The 6-foot-5 senior had 33 points and nine rebounds before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
Madison Johnson added nine points for the Redhounds, who had an 11-game winning streak snapped.
Eastern was clinging to a 37-36 lead early in the third quarter before going on a decisive 9-0 run.
Dowe lit the fuse. He nailed a three-pointer from the left wing and was fouled on the shot. He cashed the free throw to complete the four-point play.
"Like coach says, sometimes I like to kick my foot out (on my shot)," Dowe said. "I used to watch a lot of Reggie Miller. He liked to kick his leg out
"I saw (the Corbin defender) coming, and after the shot I decided to kick my leg out, and it actually worked.
"I didn't even think the shot was going to go in."
Two minutes later Abell capped the flurry by swishing a 15-footer to give the Eagles a 46-36 lead.
Corbin never got closer than seven the rest of the night.
The first half was a shootout between the teams' stars.
Dowe hit three three-pointers and had 17 points to help Eastern to a 35-30 halftime lead. Crawford hit seven of 10 shots and had 18 points at the break for Corbin.
The Redhounds edged ahead 24-16 early in the second quarter, but Eastern rallied to lead 25-24. Dowe had seven consecutive points to fuel that surge.
Despite their young roster, the Eagles showed poise whenever Corbin tried to mount a comeback.
Eastern is hoping to emulate its 1997 team which used a similar style in winning the state championship.
Crawford, meanwhile, had a nice bookend to his state tournament career.
As a slender 6-foot-4 eighth-grader in the 2005 Sweet Sixteen, he had 20 points and eight rebounds in a first-round win over Lone Oak, and 13 points and 11 rebounds in a quarterfinal loss to University Heights.
Now a thick-armed 6-5, 215-pounder, he turned in a complete performance in his final high school game.
Eastern's matchup with Central in Friday's quarterfinals will be the first time the Louisville regions have met in the state tournament since the 2005 quarterfinals when Pleasure Ridge Park beat Ballard in overtime.