Rowan County sophomore Tyler Thacker picked the perfect time and perfect place to play the game of his life.
Thacker came off the bench to hit four of six three-pointers and score a career-high 25 points to lead the Vikings past North Laurel 64-46 in the opening game of the 95th PNC/KHSAA Boys' State Basketball Tournament on Wednesday afternoon in Rupp Arena.
Nobody was more thrilled about Tyler's performance than his dad, Rowan County Coach Shawn Thacker.
"To get to share a moment like this with your son is special," he said.
North Laurel Coach Brad Sizemore had a special appreciation for Tyler's game, too.
Sizemore played at South Laurel when Shawn Thacker was an assistant coach there. Sizemore said he remembered Tyler as a pre-schooler, running the halls during practice.
"To see him go from that and to do what he did today ... he's a really nice player. He was the difference today."
Tyler was in the starting lineup early in the season, but his dad decided at Christmas to bring him off the bench. "I figured that was the best fit and I knew he'd understand," Shawn Thacker said.
After his big game in Rupp, Tyler joked that he was trying to prove his dad wrong "and make sure he knows I need to start." But he might have proved that he's more valuable as a spark off the bench.
Rowan County senior Adam Wing, whose three-point shooting and rebounding carried the Vikings to a state runner-up finish last year, got two early fouls against North Laurel and took a seat.
Enter the 6-foot-2 Thacker, who provided instant offense.
"I told Tyler he was picking us up and carrying us on his back," Wing said.
Senior point guard D.J. Townsend also got two early fouls, but didn't go out for long and helped Rowan County build a 28-15 halftime lead.
The Vikings stayed in control throughout the second half, even though Wing and Jason Egan struggled shooting. They finished the day a combined 5-for-21, including 0-for-9 from three-point range.
Wing, who has signed with Evansville, did his job on the boards, though. He finished with 15 rebounds to go with eight points and five assists.
Townsend had 14 points and four assists.
Shawn Thacker wasn't surprised his team was able to win when his long-range gunners were off target.
"I thought defense and rebounding would be the keys to the game," he said.
Rowan County limited North Laurel to 34 percent shooting, and the Vikings won the boards 39-31.
Sizemore credited Rowan County for most of his team's struggles.
"They're probably the best team we've played all year," he said. They sped us up and made us play a little quick at times. They forced us to do stuff we didn't want to do."
North Laurel was led by 6-foot-6 sophomore Jake Allen, who had 19 points, including 2-for-3 on threes, and seven rebounds. Junior point guard Marcus Carson had eight points and Kendrick Henson added seven.
But Sizemore didn't let the loss overshadow his team's dream-come-true season.
"What this group has been able to accomplish — winning the region and getting down here — it's an unbelievable feeling to go out and do something that's never been done in school history."