A record first-round state tournament crowd of 21,048 watched Elliott County beat Anderson County 74-61 in the National City Boys' Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena Thursday night.
Jonathan Ferguson's hot shooting carried Elliott County in the first half, and the Faulkner twins — Ethan and Evan — helped seal the deal in the second half.
Timmy Knipp, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, came up big, too, with his defense on Anderson County star C.J. Penny.
Penny, who came into the tournament averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds, was limited to 10 and eight.
Elliott County (31-2) advances to meet Shelby Valley (31-4) in Friday night's quarterfinals. It will be the biggest Sweet Sixteen showdown between mountain regions since Paintsville beat Ashland Blazer in the 1996 finals.
Shelby Valley beat Elliott County 55-52 in the semifinals of the All "A" Classic in February, the Lions' only loss to a Kentucky team this season.
As a preview to Elliott County's third straight state tournament appearance, USA Today ran a feature on the Lions on Thursday, the latest in a blitz of national and statewide publicity for the small-town school.
Has all the attention put any added pressure on Elliott County as it shoots for a state title?
"There's no pressure," Ethan Faulkner said. "You try to keep that (publicity) out of your mind and just play the game."
For the Lions, that means firing three-pointers, attacking the rim and hustling on defense.
Ferguson did the firing in the first half, especially in the second quarter when he hit three threes and had 15 consecutive points for Elliott County.
Ferguson finished the half with 20 of his game-high 24 points.
"We knew he could get red hot like that," Anderson County Coach Glen Drury said. "He can make shots with people right in his face."
Ethan Faulkner had 15 of his 20 points in the second half. Evan had nine of his 14 after the break. The Faulkners also combined for 13 rebounds and five assists.
Knipp finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots.
Jacob Russell, a 6-4 junior, led Anderson County with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Elliott County opened an 11-point lead midway through the third quarter, but Anderson County battled back.
The Bearcats trimmed the deficit to 58-55 on Allen Warford's three with 5:52 left in the game, but Elliott County didn't get rattled.
Ferguson's rebound basket and Ethan Faulkner's steal and three-point play sparked a 12-2 run that clinched the victory.
"Give Elliott County credit, when they had to answer the bell when we made runs on them, they did," Drury said. "They made defensive plays, got steals, created an open floor and got layups."
Still, Drury wondered what might have been if his team had hit a tying three-point attempt when it was 58-55.
"If we had been able to make a play there, we had a momentum change," he said.
Drury lauded his team's effort, and praised Penny for being unselfish when he realized he was covered.
The Bearcats coach said the game was a good example of smart basketball by both teams.
"Two high IQ basketball teams just got done playing," he said. "You've got all boys from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and you've got all boys from Sandy Hook.
"These kids grew up in these communities. They're not kids that just accidentally leave for other positions at other schools."
With his team out of the tournament, Drury threw his support to Coach Rick Mays' Lions.
"I want to give Rick Mays and his club a lot of credit, and I hope they win it all," he said. "We didn't get the draw we might've liked, but we'll still hold our head high."