Bad memories from last season have helped McCreary Central's boys' basketball team get off to a good start this season.
"I think we've got a chip on our shoulder, and that's making us play hard," Coach Robert Jones said, noting that he's got most of the guys back from the team that lost a close game to West Jessamine in the 12th Region finals last March.
Senior star Aaron Watts admitted that that defeat is still with the Raiders.
"It was a heartbreaker. The whole county was behind us, and we feel like we let them down," he said. "That's given us a lot of extra motivation and a lot to prove this year."
McCreary Central proved to be too much for Muhlenberg County in the opening round of the Republic Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic Saturday afternoon.
Watts had 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals to spark the Raiders to a 75-64 victory.
He got lots of help from Jacob Dixon, who came off the bench to hit five of six three-pointers and score 17 points.
Tyler Perry also had 17 points and eight rebounds. Zack Roark muscled his way to nine points and nine rebounds as McCreary Central improved to 7-3, including a revenge win over West Jessamine a couple of weeks ago.
Muhlenberg County, a first-year program following the consolidation of Muhlenberg North and South, rallied to tie it 32-32 at halftime. But McCreary Central opened the second half with a 13-0 run, and the Mustangs never got closer than six the rest of the way.
"We thought if we came out, executed, got the ball to the open man and hit our shots we could pull away from them," Jones said.
Watts carried his share of the load, as usual.
The 6-foot-2 guard, who averaged 24 points a game last season, is averaging a little more than 26 this season.
"Aaron's taken the role of doing whatever it takes to win," Jones said. "When we need to score, he'll go score."
Watts showed his versatility against Muhlenberg County. He swished three of five three-pointers, hit a couple of mid-range jumpers and took the ball to the rim. He made 11 of 12 free throws.
Dixon's long-distance shooting and Perry's inside work complemented Watts perfectly.
Muhlenberg County, coached by former UK player Reggie Warford, made one last run when it closed to within 62-56 with five minutes left. But McCreary Central answered with a 9-0 run to put the game out of reach.
Kraig Farley hit five of 12 threes to lead the Mustangs with 15 points. Joe Gabbard had 10 points before he was ejected after being whistled for back-to-back technical fouls.
Warford's sons — 6-4 senior Grant and 6-1 junior Tiger — had six points apiece.
MUHLENBERG COUNTY (7-4) — Hawkins 5, Civils 10, G.Warford 6, T.Warford 6, Gabbard 10, Farley 15, Broady 3, Harris 2, Gregory 4, Carver 3.
MCCREARY CENTRAL (7-3) — Watts 28, Perry 17, Dixon 17, Roark 9, Williams 2, Privett 2.
Muhlenberg County 11 21 12 20—64
McCreary Central 15 17 22 21—75