HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — Scott County was a clear-cut No. 1 in the pre-season boys' basketball ratings, but No. 2 Holmes showed Sunday night that the Cardinals' roost at the top isn't secure.
Sparked by the three-point shooting of JaMel Riley and a hustling defense, Holmes beat Scott County 70-65 in the Bluegrass-Buckeye Charity Holiday Classic at the new Bank of Kentucky Center on the campus of Northern Kentucky University.
"I've never said we were invincible," Scott County Coach Billy Hicks said. "If we don't play hard, don't play defense or rebound, anybody can beat us.
"We didn't play with intensity, emotion or fire, and Holmes did."
Bulldogs Coach David Henley praised his team's effort, which he said had been lacking in the early season, including a 12-point loss to Bryan Station.
"If our guys play hard defensively, we can give a lot of teams trouble," he said. "Our guys have to understand that's what it takes to beat good teams. In our first three games, we didn't outwork people."
Riley hit five of six threes and led the winners with 20 points. Elijah Pittman had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Jeremiah Johnson and Ricardo Johnson combined for 22 points and 13 rebounds.
The Bulldogs were snarling from the start as they jumped ahead 14-4 in the first four minutes. They doubled the score on Scott County at 34-17 when Riley swished his fourth three with five minutes left in the first half.
"I've been coaching 21 years, and he's the best shooter I've had," Henley said. "He's an unbelievable shooter."
The Bulldogs, who have a long, lean and athletic line-up, did a good job on defense, limiting Scott County to 41 percent shooting.
The Cards' 6-foot-8 Richie Phares was neutralized by foul trouble. He got three early personals and played only five minutes in the second half before fouling out with three points and three rebounds.
If it hadn't been for Ge-Lawn Guyn, Scott County would have lost by a bunch. The junior guard pumped in 29 points, had four steals and hustled from start to finish.
The Cards trailed by double digits until they closed to within eight, 53-45, heading into the fourth quarter.
Holmes extended its lead back to 12 with four minutes left before having to hold off one last Scott County rally sparked by freshman Tamron Manning.
Manning finished with 12 points, and Chad Jackson had 10.
Dakotah Euton, a 6-8 junior who has committed to Kentucky, added nine points and 11 rebounds.
UK Coach Billy Gillispie was in the crowd of 3,100, along with former Holmes and UK player Dicky Beal.
But the most famous guy in attendance was hoops legend Oscar Robertson, the honorary chairman of this two-day event.
When it was over, No. 2 Holmes had knocked off No. 1 Scott County.
Was this a statement game?
"Yes," said Holmes junior star Ricardo Johnson. "It means we're No. 1 now."
SCOTT COUNTY (65) — Guyn 29, Phares 3, Euton 9, Manning 12, Jackson 10, Flannery 2.
HOLMES (70) e_SEmD J.Johnson 12, R.Johnson 10, Riley 20, Pittman 15, Housley 5, D.Johnson 6, Arnold 2.
Scott County 12 17 16 20—65
Holmes 24 17 12 17—70
Records: Scott County 2-2; Holmes 3-1.