Fern Creek’s second trip to the boys’ basketball state tournament started the same way its first did a year ago — with a victory. But it wasn’t easy this time.
The Tigers needed overtime to defeat Boyd County, 69-67, in the first round of the 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen on Thursday afternoon in Rupp Arena.
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Fern Creek, this season’s King of the Bluegrass champion, was ranked fourth with an 80.3. Boyd County was ranked 14th overall with a 68.4 rating in the final edition of Dave Cantrall’s Rating the state.
Few outside of Boyd County gave the Lions — in the field for the first time since 2000 — much of a chance against the Tigers, who held off another upset bid after surviving against Jeffersontown in the 6th Region finals.
Fern Creek Coach James Schooler was among the few.
“Nobody believed Boyd County could win coming into this? I did,” Schooler said. “I watched them live twice and I watched several tapes. ... Nobody thought we would be here either out of Louisville, so I feel their pain.”
Ahmad Price, Anthony Wales and Clint Wickliffe all finished in double-figure scoring for Fern Creek, which made its Sweet Sixteen debut last season with a convincing win over Hopkinsville. The Tigers then upended 7th Region rival Ballard, 55-52, to reach the semifinals, where they bowed out to Cooper.
Price led the way with 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting. He went 5-for-6 from the free-throw line, including the game-tying and go-ahead shots with 11.3 seconds left in the game.
Wales had 13 points while Wickliffe had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Wickliffe also drew four charge calls against the Lions, including a pivotal one that gave Fern Creek the ball back with 4.5 seconds left in overtime. Jaden Rogers went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line after that final foul call and Boyd’s desperation heave from midcourt went off the glass.
“I’m just one of those players, I’m gonna give it all to my teammates,” Wickliffe said. “Senior year, I don’t even know how it is for the other group of guys over there on Boyd. They played a great game, but senior year I don’t want to go out (with) last year’s feeling. I won’t feel that again. Whatever it takes for these guys to win, I got it.”
Boyd County cut it to 10 before halftime and outscored the Tigers 44-27 in regulation after trailing by 17 points in the second quarter. The Lions jumped out to a 65-61 lead in the extra period but missed five of six straight free throws during a stretch in which Fern Creek pulled to within 66-65 with 1:27 left in the period. Boyd County was 5-for-11 from the line in overtime and 19-for-28 for the game.
“Not once did I feel like we were going to lose,” Schooler said. “I was just wondering why we were gonna win it this way.”
Lions Coach Randy Anderson wasn’t pleased with the charge call on the Lions’ penultimate possession, nor with an offensive-foul call whistled against the Lions with 16 seconds left in regulation; Boyd County dribbled about 50 seconds off the clock in an attempt to get off the final shot of regulation but the foul was called on the opposite side of the court. Wales missed a jumper off the turnover that would have won it for Fern Creek in regulation.
“I think there’s some type of fine for giving your real opinion,” Anderson said with a laugh. “I’ve said this before, there’s three things in life that’s really hard: parenting, preaching and officiating. They’re hard, they really are. It’s almost a no win-win a lot of times.”
“If you ask me how I seen it, I felt like the play over there on the side was bogus. I thought they had two hands on Gunner (Short). In fact when I heard the whistle I thought that was us going to the line. We’d done a great job for a minute-six of holding that ball and got into a set, had people in space that we wanted to, and then the moving screen I thought was huge. It was gonna come down to us, win or lose it, it was gonna be determined by us. We were gonna get that last shot.
“And then at the end, I don’t know. You can go back, and it’s been filmed, but I don’t think there were any charge calls that we got and there were four on our end. So I’ll leave it at that.”