Ballard blasted Taylor County from tipoff, scoring six points in the first 37 seconds of a 69-33 victory in the first round of the 100th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen on Thursday at Rupp Arena.
Antoine Darby had 15 points to lead the Bruins, who will meet fellow Louisville force Fern Creek in the quarterfinals on Friday. Darby didn’t miss a shot until the second half and finished 6-for-9 from the field.
Box score: Ballard 69, Taylor County 33
Ballard finished with a 2-1 turnover ratio (22 to 11) and forced Taylor County into 27 miscues.
It will be Ballard’s 14th quarterfinals trip in 17 state-tournament appearances. Fern Creek is in the tournament for the first time in program history. The teams met three times during the regular season, with Fern Creek sweeping by scores of 87-82, 46-31 and 86-71. But Ballard, ranked third overall, is a slim favorite in the Cantrall Ratings (84.9 to 84.3).
“I’ve walked in here a lot of times, and Ballard’s been the favorite to win this thing and haven’t walked out with the championship,” Ballard Coach Chris Renner said. “Fern Creek’s beaten us three times, Bowling Green beat us once, so we haven’t knocked the big boys off yet. We would certainly love that chance and we’ve got that chance tomorrow.
Fern Creek Coach James Schooler was an assistant under Renner when the Bruins played Madison Central in the 2013 finals.
“I’m kind of wishing I didn’t teach Coach Schooler some of my tricks,” Renner said. “I don’t wanna say he’s a little brother, but he was a big part of our program, and Coach Schooler and I developed a good relationship. I’m looking forward to that matchup, but I might have taught him a little too much.”
Dylan Gaines, Ezra Oliver and Tre’von Smith — who each average double-figure scoring for the Cardinals — had a combined 11 points at halftime and finished with 20 collectively.
Darby was the primary defender on Oliver, Taylor County’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. Oliver finished with six points on 3-for-11 shooting.
“Any good basketball team at this time of year, you have to have guys accepting their roles. We have that,” Renner said. “ … Antoine is probably one of the best defenders in the state of Kentucky. He’s done a tremendous job and we’re not afraid to put him on anybody.”
Taylor County pulled to within 10-9 in the first quarter with 3:40 left. Ballard responded with a 12-2 run to close the period and put the Cardinals out of it.
“Against that pressure, we thought we could get to the rim, but Coach Renner does a good job with that group of kids and they closed the gaps on us,” said Taylor County Coach Maze Stallworth, who coached in his first state-tournament game.
“… Against a great team, if you dig yourself a hole, they just bury ya. And that’s what they did today.”