After engineering its second blowout win in three days, the Warren Central boys’ basketball team appears to have a legitimate shot at bringing home the program’s second state championship.
The Dragons came out of the gate on fire, blitzing to a 20-4 lead then cruising to a 74-57 victory over Pikeville in the quarterfinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen state tournament at Rupp Arena on Friday.
With the win, which came two days after a 24-point opening-round thrashing of Southwestern, Warren Central earned its first trip to the state semifinals since the 2006-2007 season.
Warren Central’s transition offense overwhelmed the 15th Region champion Panthers early. Jamale Barber keyed the decisive run, scoring all seven of his points during the stretch in which the Dragons built their 16-point first-quarter lead.
“We wanted to get some early baskets and we shot it well but like I told (my team), they’re gonna make a run,” said Warren Central Coach William Unseld. “They made a little run but we still had a 13-point lead. Then they cut it to nine and we made our run again. ... We’re shooting the ball well right now. And when we’re shooting it the way we are we’re a hard team to guard.”
Warren Central (31-5) hit nine of 12 field goals in the first quarter and shot 66 percent for the game.
After the early barrage Pikeville settled down and played even with the Dragons for much of the game’s remainder. An 11-3 run capped by Connor Roberts’ layup cut the deficit to 23-15 early in the second quarter.
The Panthers got a third-quarter lift from Zach Hamilton. The senior big man, enthusiastically dubbed “Ham Bone” by the Pikeville student section, came off the bench to lead a final stand. He scored six points on 3-for-3 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.
In the middle of the third Hamilton swatted a shot in the lane, starting a fast break that ended with a Wyatt Battaile layup and conversion of an and-one opportunity. Moments later Hamilton cut Warren Central’s lead to single digits, 39-30, with a crafty layup. But the Panthers would get no closer. Warren Central responded with a 10-0 burst.
Jordan Cousin was virtually unstoppable for Warren Central. The senior guard scored a game-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, routinely finishing off fast breaks and creating shots for himself at will. Skyelar Potter added 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Battaile led Pikeville (25-10) with 12 points and five rebounds, but the Dragons made the senior guard work overtime for every point. Tayshaun Bibb was in Battaile’s pocket the entire game, holding him to 4-of-12 shooting.
“Tayshaun did a heck of a job defensively,” Unseld said. “Part of the game plan was we wanted to make (Battaile) work for all of his shots and Tayshaun did a great job of being an unselfish teammate and working. He wore him down.”