It was a long time coming, but Campbell County finally has a victory at the Sweet Sixteen.
The Camels put together a big run in the middle of the game, opened up a double-digit lead in the third quarter, and held off University Heights and its star player KyKy Tandy for an 82-65 victory in the first round of the state tournament at Rupp Arena on Thursday afternoon.
This was the sixth time that Campbell County had advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The Camels’ first trip to the state tournament was in 1946. They’d never won a game on this stage until Thursday.
“It means a lot,” said Campbell County Coach Aric Russell. “You talk about it — our school’s never done it, and you always wonder if this is going to be the team that does it. I thought this team would. And I think it’s huge for our school and our community.”
Russell never made it to Rupp during his playing days for the Camels, but this is his third time bringing Campbell County to the Sweet Sixteen as a head coach. He also coached Newport to a state tournament appearance in 2010, and he was ousted in the first round then, too.
“It’s so special to be with these guys,” Russell said. “I’ve basically seen these kids from the time they started basketball.”
He stressed the team-first approach that this squad has embraced. The Camels have four players averaging double-digit points this season, and they got a balanced scoring effort Thursday.
Joel Day led the way with 23 points. Tanner Clos had 21, Reid Jolly chipped in with 20 and Drew Wilson added 11 points. Every time University Heights got the margin back into single digits down the stretch, someone would come up with a big shot or a big play for the Camels.
“Hats off to Campbell County,” University Heights Coach Grant Shouse said. “They made shots. They ran their offense. We tried to get more into ‘em and kind of speed ’em up and put a lot of pressure on them. But it seemed like every time we did that, they had an answer. … And once we were playing catch-up with them, we knew it was going to be a pretty tough task.”
Tandy, a junior guard with recruiting interest from the University of Kentucky, was electric for the Blazers, making his first five shot attempts, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and finishing with 31 points, the highest scoring total of the state tournament so far this week.
But it’s the Camels who will move on, for the first time in school history.
“It’s really special,” Day said. “No one else in the school’s done it, so it feels great. I guess we’re considered the best team to ever come through here now, so we can brag on that. But we’re not done yet. We have three more to win. We’re not satisfied, but we’re happy about it.”
Boys’ Sweet Sixteen
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: Rupp Arena
At stake: Boys’ state high school basketball championship