The Murray High School basketball team brought a gold brick to the postgame interview podium after defeating Buckhorn, 62-35, to open the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament on Wednesday.
The Tigers are hoping three more gold bricks make a public appearance in Rupp Arena over the next few days.
Junior guard Preston English scored 21 points and senior forward Tre Hornbuckle added 17 to lead Murray (30-5) to its first state tournament victory since 1977, and wins like this one are what Tigers Coach Bart Flener wants his kids to remember.
Flener took the Murray job two seasons ago, and one of his first acts was to remind the Tigers of their basketball tradition.
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Murray went to three Sweet Sixteens from 1974 to 1985, but the program hadn’t been back on the state’s biggest stage until Wednesday.
When Flener took over, he had a brick wall built to showcase the Tigers’ past with a single brick for every victory since the 1973-74 season, the school’s first that ended at the state tournament. Every time Murray wins, they add a brick to the wall. Most are white, victories over local rivals are different colors, and tournament wins are laced with gold paint.
The brick to mark Wednesday’s victory — only the program’s second in state tournament history — is painted completely gold.
“We’re not satisfied,” Flener said. “We’ve got three more gold bricks with us. We’re very happy to be here, but we’re not just happy to be here. We want to do some things that can build a legacy that these guys — and folks in Murray — won’t soon forget.”
It was a memorable state tournament opener for the Tigers, who outscored 14th Region champ Buckhorn 17-3 in the second quarter and dominated the Wildcats inside throughout the game.
At halftime, Murray led 33-18 and had outscored Buckhorn 20-0 in the paint. The Wildcats didn’t score their first two-point field goal until late in the third quarter and finished the game 4-for-25 from two-point range.
“Their size was definitely a factor. It just seemed like we couldn’t get close to the basket,” said Buckhorn Coach John Noble. “It was definitely disruptive trying to finish at the rim.”
Hornbuckle — a 6-foot-4 player who has signed to play defensive end at Duke next season — was a big reason for the Tigers’ dominance inside. He was 8-for-12 from the field and also made several nice passes out of the post that led to Murray baskets.
Six of Hornbuckle’s points came in the runaway second quarter, which the Tigers managed despite missing 6-6 senior James Boone, the 1st Region player of the year who has signed to play for Samford. Boone sat out the entire period with two fouls and finished with five points in just 16 minutes on the court.
“It was a chance for everybody in Rupp Arena to see how complete our team is,” Flener said. “We’ve done it all year.”
Murray (30-5) vs. Newport Central Catholic (29-4)
When: Friday at noon