Lafayette overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to come away with a 67-60 win over 43rd District rival Lexington Christian at home on Friday night.
The Generals, ranked No. 5 in the Cantrall Ratings, picked up their fourth straight win over LCA and their 12th win in the last 13 meetings between the two programs. It was their second meeting this season, the first an out-of-district meeting in the semifinals of Lake Cumberland Holiday Hoops Classic in December, which Lafayette won 79-65.
This time around, Lafayette big man Ross Jenkins had his way in the paint. He finished with 30 points on 11-for-16 shooting and 11 rebounds, both game highs. He had 10 points in the third quarter to help trim LCA’s lead to 47-43 entering the final eight minutes.
Jenkins said getting penetration against LCA’s 1-3-1 zone was a big point of emphasis coming out of the locker room.
“When our guards can get in the paint, I can go down and they can dish it to me and that was there a lot,” Jenkins said.
The district implications and home court helped make Friday night’s atmosphere more energetic than their first meeting, according to Jenkins. It helped that both teams weren’t playing their third game in as many days, too.
“It was high-paced from the get-go and we really had to claw back,” Jenkins said.
Lexington Christian shot 65.4 percent in the first half. Five of its six players who scored went into the locker room shooting 50 percent or better. The Eagles’ lead grew to as much as 15 before settling into a 39-27 edge at the break.
LCA’s Tre King picked up three first-half fouls and was tagged with his fourth with 3:31 left in the third quarter. He went the rest of the way without earning another, but Kyle Rode wasn’t so fortunate. Rode, the Eagles’ leading scorer at 18.5 points per game, picked up his final two fouls in a six-second span — on a block attempt then a charge — with 5:58 left in the game and LCA clinging to a 51-46 lead.
Lafayette outscored LCA 21-9 after Rode fouled out. The Generals took their first lead since the first quarter on a bucket from Jenkins with 2:42 left in the game.
Eagles Coach Nate Valentine felt bad for his players after coming up short again against a top opponent. Friday’s loss was their ninth to an opponent ranked in the top 25.
“They led the game for 29 minutes,” Valentine said. “We didn’t have the discipline we needed the last eight minutes against a very good Lafayette team. ... We’ve got a lot of young guys and I hate it for them because they played their tails off. We just weren’t good enough to finish the job tonight.”
Coach Mike Mendenhall credited the Generals’ big turnaround to increased intensity down the stretch. They’re not really a halfcourt team, he said, so “if we bring effort and intensity good things are gonna happen.”
It doesn’t hurt to have a paint filler like Jenkins to go to in case of emergency, though.
“Whenever anybody plays behind him we’ve gotta throw him the ball,” Mendenhall said. “The kid’s one of the best players in the state at that position (center). If they’re gonna let him catch it we gotta make sure we give it to him.”
Mendenhall thought Lafayette settled for too many threes in the first half — open looks, but not the best looks the Generals could have gotten.
“In the second half we were patient, we got it down low to him and it paid off.”
Lafayette 67, Lexington Christian 60
Lexington Christian (10-10) — Hendrickson 5, Hill 12, Hall 11, Rode 13, King 14, Hunt 5.
Lafayette (14-3) — R. Jenkins 30, Downey 13, J. Jenkins 3, Greenup 3, Lane 12, Carpenter 3, Watkins 3.