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Greg Adkins is 122-77 in seven years at Elliott County. He was an assistant coach for the Lions in each of their Sweet Sixteen appearances from 2007-09.
3 Chase Porter 6-1 Jr. 15.4 ppg
12 Korbin Spencer 6-1 Fr. 17.7 ppg
23 Landon Griffith 5-8 Sr. 10.1 ppg
24 Reece Griffith 5-8 Sr. 7.2 ppg
40 Collin Howell 6-4 Sr. 9.5 ppg
How they got here
Throw out a four-week long skid starting in early January, and the Lions have been pretty much unbeatable this season. Elliott County lost six of its seven games from Jan. 4-Feb. 2. They led four of those six losses in the final minute. “I think ultimately we just found ways to lose close games,” Adkins said. Before the game against East Carter on Feb. 5, the Lions coaching staff decided it was time for a change. More jokes in the locker room, more music during practices, and Elliott County hasn’t lost since. “We just tried to loosen them up a little bit and started having fun again,” Adkins said. Howell, Porter and the Griffiths were all starters on last season’s Sweet Sixteen team, and leading scorer Spencer was a top reserve on that squad as an eighth-grader.
These guys again?
Adkins just laughed when asked about the Lions’ first-round draw for this week’s state tournament. Bowling Green defeated his squad, 86-44, in the first round of last year’s Sweet Sixteen, and the two are pitted against each other again here Wednesday. A lot of the same players are back on each side. What can a coach say to his team in this situation? “I’ve just told them that maybe it was meant to be,” Adkins said. “We know we can’t do any worse than we did last year. Hopefully we come out without any fear of losing and just play.”
Player to watch
Spencer provided a spark off the bench for the Lions as an eighth-grader last season. Now, he’s the go-to guy. “He’s really come on as the season has gone on,” Adkins said. “He’s a very special player. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays. He’s a good shooter. Just a well-rounded player with a high basketball IQ.” Adkins said Spencer put a lot of time into his game during the offseason, and that work ethic has carried over since the games began. “The kid’s in the gym from daylight until dark.”
This is Elliott County’s fifth state tournament and second in a row. The Lions advanced to the finals in 2009.
D.G. Sherrill is 270-89 in 11 seasons at Bowling Green. This is the fifth time — and the third consecutive year — that he has led the Purples to the Sweet Sixteen.
2 Deangelo Wilson 5-10 Jr. 11.8 ppg
12 Jarius Key 6-5 So. 3.8 ppg
21 Terry Taylor 6-6 Jr. 15.3 ppg
23 Thomas Booker 6-3 Sr. 12.3 ppg
25 Perry Ayers 6-3 Sr. 7.7 ppg
How they got here
The Purples roll into Rupp Arena boasting a 24-game winning streak (their last loss was Dec. 21 against Ballard, a defeat that they avenged later in the season). Bowling Green is an athletic team that likes to press and play in transition. The Purples play a lot of man-to-man defense, and they excel on the boards. They also make three-pointers at nearly a 40 percent clip. Taylor (15.3 points and 11.9 rebounds) and regular starter Kyran Jones (12.3 points and 10.1 rebounds) both average double-doubles. Jones will be forced to sit out Wednesday due to a skirmish in the regional tournament. He’ll be eligible to return if Bowling Green advances to the quarterfinals.
Step by step
Bowling Green advanced to the state semifinals in 2014. Last year, it made it to the finals before falling to Owensboro with the state title on the line. The next logical step would be for the Purples to be hoisting the trophy on Sunday. Sherrill said any team thinking like that won’t be around long. “This is the toughest tournament in the country,” he said. “Anyone that walks into this tournament and says, ‘Well, we’re going to play on Saturday and we’re going to play on Sunday’ — they’re probably going to go home pretty early. We take nothing for granted.”
Player to watch
Taylor averaged 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds as a sophomore last season, and he’s continued to improve. He has the ability to make things happen on the perimeter, but he often plays from the elbow in. “He can score in multiple ways,” Sherrill said. “He’s a kid who can go get his own shot, which is really important, especially in this tournament with the level of competition.” Several Division I schools, including Western Kentucky and Murray State, have been in regular contact. “We feel like his recruitment is really about to take off,” Sherrill said.
This is Bowling Green’s 16th appearance in the state tournament. Last year’s run to the title game set the mark for the best showing in program history.