What would you expect from a showdown of top-five boys' basketball teams gearing up and locking down for the post-season?
You'd expect the kind of defensive battle, down-to-the-buzzer thriller that Lexington Catholic and host Tates Creek served up Thursday night in front of a raucous crowd at Nolan Barger Gymnasium.
Taylor Martin's two free throws with seven seconds left were the difference as No. 4 Lexington Catholic beat the No. 5 Commodores 46-45.
Tates Creek had plenty of time to get a last shot, but the Knights forced the ball away from Marcellus Barksdale in the lane, and Braxton McFarland threw up an off-balance layup that missed as time expired.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Tates Creek had taken a 45-44 lead on Barksdale's rebound dunk with 22 seconds left. After a timeout, Martin drew a foul as he started to drive down the lane.
The 6-foot-5 senior couldn't have been calmer, or more confident, when he stepped to the line. He has a history of making clutch free throws, including two to beat Scott County in the region finals as a sophomore.
"It's fun," he said of being in the pressure-packed situation. "I'd rather it be me than somebody else."
"Fun" was just about everybody's description of the back-and-forth battle.
"A great atmosphere, great players making big plays, and a whole lot of fun to be part of it," Knights Coach Brandon Salsman said.
Tates Creek Coach Wayne Breeden saw it the same way even though his team had a 10-game winning streak snapped.
"What an atmosphere, kids competing hard in a game that comes down to the final possession," he said. "
It was a typical Tates Creek grinder, a slow-the-pace chess match, not exactly Lexington Catholic's preferred tempo.
"You have to value the ball a whole lot more," Knights' senior Scott Schuette said. "Our style is better up and down, but we can adapt to about anything."
Tates Creek used terrific defense to beat host Lexington Catholic 54-49 two weeks ago. The Knights on the rematch.
"We've heard what a good defensive team Tates Creek is, and they are, but we think we're a pretty good one, too," Salsman said.
Lexington Catholic struggled on offense the first three quarters, shooting 29 percent. Schuette, the Knights' sharpest eye, was 4-for-16, including 1-for-9 from three-point range.
But the 6-4 senior was 3-for-3 from the field in the fourth quarter, and the Knights were 6-for-8 overall. Craig Floyd contributed a big three down the stretch.
Schuette led the winners with 19 points. Martin had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Tates Creek, which shot 40 percent, was led by senior guard Ryan Fucci's 19 points, including a couple of ice-in-his-veins threes in the fourth quarter. Barksdale had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Tates Creek is in the midst of a killer stretch of games. They beat No. 7 Jeffersontown last weekend, visit No. 13 Henry Clay on Friday, and host No. 1 Eastern on Wednesday.
Lexington Catholic is at home against No. 3 Clark County on Tuesday, and No. 10 Scott County on Feb. 12.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (17-4) — Martin6-13 5-7 17, Schuette 7-19 3-3 19, Beckham 1-4 2-2 4, Floyd 2-2 0-0 6, Woomer 0-3 0-0 0, Keller 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-42 10-12 46.
TATES CREEK (15-3) — Barksdale 4-9 2-2 10, Fucci 6-13 4-5 19, Gibson 1-4 3-4 5, Mack 1-5 1-1 3, McFarland 3-6 0-1 6, Bradley 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 15-37 12-15 45.
Lexington Catholic 11 5 11 19—46
Tates Creek 14 5 8 18—45