In an up-and-down season that saw Lexington Catholic pull off some incredible wins and some head-scratching losses, Coach Brandon Salsman’s Knights turned in a dominating performance to rout Franklin County 79-52 Wednesday in the opening round of the boys’ 11th Region Tournament at Eastern Kentucky’s Paul S. McBrayer Arena.
Back in December, Lexington Catholic (now 23-8) looked miserable in a 17-point loss to Paul Laurence Dunbar. Then, a week later, the Knights beat eventual state No. 1 Scott County by four. Within a span of two weeks in February, the Knights routed Lexington Christian by 21 and then sputtered to a 22-point loss to the Eagles in the 43rd District finals.
Does Salsman, in his 11th season with the Knights, know which team will take the floor on any given night?
“Do you? And if you do, will you tell me?” he asked, jokingly. “We hope a good one. It wasn’t necessarily that we were bad on those nights, it was more along the lines that the other teams were really good. I think my kids know what’s at stake. And I think they’ll be ready for every game (now).”
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The Knights proved it Wednesday. Whereas Franklin County (14-19) attempted to slow the pace from the outset, dribbling out the clock on several possessions, Lexington Catholic ran its offense efficiently. The score was just 12-7 after one period.
“There’re no easy games in this tournament,” Salsman said. “We knew Tony (Franklin County Coach Wise) would have his team ready. They came out in the first half and executed their game plan and our kids just persevered through it. I’ve been in this long enough to know you have to persevere through a lot of things.”
Back-to-back three-pointers to end the first period by junior guard Keegan Bailey and junior forward Zan Payne helped spark a 25-4 run that effectively put the game out of reach before halftime.
The Knights hit six of their 10 three-pointers in the first half with Payne knocking down three of four.
“I was feeling my jump shot tonight,” he said.
Payne struggled with his jumper this season, but he put in a lot of work on his own and with his dad, Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne.
“You can see how his hard work is paying off,” Salsman said. “He’s doing a great job shooting the ball and has become an asset from the perimeter this year.”
As for Lexington Catholic’s rocky season, Payne thinks the Knights can put that behind them.
“We’re kind of up and down sometimes, but when we start going, we start playing good and no one can really stop us,” he said.
Payne led six Lexington Catholic scorers in double figures with 13 points. Diablo Stewart led the Flyers with 14 points.
Lexington Catholic 79, Franklin County 52
Lexington Catholic (79): Payne 13, Whitman 11, Price 4, L. Johnson 11, Scott 10, Neuer 2, Hardin 11, Geoghan 2, Bailey 11, Ginnan 2, B. Johnson 2.
Franklin County (52): Hubbard 3, Valentine 10, Stivers 10, Stewart 14, Lee 2, Boling 4, Courtney 4, Adkins 1, Levarity 4.
Boys’ 11th Region quarterfinals at EKU
6:30 p.m.: Scott Co. (27-5) vs. Frankfort (11-21)
8:15 p.m.: Lexington Christian (23-8) vs. Madison Central (18-14)