When All-Staters Marcellus Barksdale and Ryan Fucci graduated last spring, most people figured Tates Creek would be in for a long, cold winter of rebuilding basketball this season.
Barely two weeks into December, though, the Commodores are showing that rebuilding and winning aren't mutually exclusive.
Tates Creek whipped host Lafayette 61-46 Tuesday night for its fourth victory over a city opponent. It also owns wins over Bryan Station, Henry Clay and Lexington Christian.
"People underestimated us because we lost two good players in Marcellus and Ryan," returning starter Darius Gibson said. "But I thought we could still be good with the talent we had back and coming in. We're showing that by beating these other teams that were supposed to better than us."
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Gibson, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard, has orchestrated Tates Creek's early success.
"Darius has been through the fires," Coach Wayne Breeden said. "He's played varsity with us since his freshman year. Sometimes I have to reinforce and remind him he's the elder statesman now and has to put everybody else in position and be the leader.
"Tonight, he did that. He looked like a great point guard in the second half."
Gibson had all of his 16 points and three steals in the second half. He also finished the game with six assists and five rebounds.
DaiQuan Epps, a senior with only junior varsity experience before this year, led Tates Creek with 17 points and seven rebounds.
"He's a battler; he competes and just keeps getting better," Breeden said.
Jordan Fucci, a 6-4 freshman (and Ryan's brother), had 13 points and six rebuonds.
Braxton McFarland, a 6-4 junior veteran, had eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.
"We're playing as a team, and that's what you want," Breeden said. "We're sharing the basketball and playing to our strengths. We're committed to playing defense and playing our roles on offense."
Tates Creek's defense delivered the knockout punch in the third quarter. It turned up the heat, and the Generals couldn't handle it. They made six turnovers in a three-minute span, fueling a 13-0 flurry by Tates Creek that gave the visitors a 40-26 cushion.
Lafayette finished with 22 turnovers, 13 in the second half.
"That's been our Achilles' heel, handling that pressure," first-year coach Mike Mendenhall said.
"And I thought, in our first four games, we competed. What disappointed me tonight was, I didn't think we competed."
Lafayette, with no seniors on its roster, is one of the youngest teams around. It's also one of the biggest, with a lineup that includes 6-8 sophomore Jackson Davis and 6-7 junior Nick Trisko.
Trisko had 13 points and three rebounds, and Davis had 10 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against Tates Creek.
It's still early in the season, so there's plenty of time for everybody to get better. Including surprising Tates Creek.
"We're doing this in December, and we're a young team," Gibson said. "So by January and February, we can be even better."
Tates Creek has won 16 of 19 games against Lafayette since 2004 and leads the 44-year-old series 69-39.
TATES CREEK (4-2) — Gibson 5-12 6-9 16, Epps 7-9 3-5 17, McFarland 4-9 0-0 8, Fucci 6-13 1-3 13, Mattox 2-8 0-0 5, Love 0-2 0-0 0, Grimes 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-55 10-17 61.
LAFAYETTE (1-4) — Davis 5-12 0-0 10, Trisko 6-15 1-2 13, Blakey 3-6 0-0 7, Hughes 1-2 0-0 3, Chester 2-5 0-0 4, Sweat-Washington 0-4 0-0 0, Wright 2-2 1-2 5, Burlingham 1-3 1-1 3, Jeter 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 20-49 4-7 46.
Tates Creek 14 11 18 18—61
Lafayette 11 9 11 1—46