BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
GRAYSON Ethan Raby needed a little confidence, his coach said. And Russell needed a basket.
Raby provided both on Tuesday night. The senior guard canned a 3pointer coming out of a Red Devils timeout midway through the fourth quarter of the Eastern Kentucky Conference Tournament semifinals to stem a rally by host East Carter.
Russell, boosted to a 47-38 lead, won by that margin — 59-50 — to advance to Thursday’s tournament finals.
“We’ve had an opportunity to win all of our ball games, and we just gotta finish down the stretch,” Red Devils coach Bryan Groves said. “I thought we did a really good job of being patient and poised and coming together as a team. I think it was a huge step tonight. We’re starting to trust in our teammates and what they do and what they have to offer.”
It took the Raiders more than six minutes to make their first field goal in the first half and nearly 4 1/2 to get their first bucket of the second half. East Carter still hung around and made its run with a typically gritty and deliberate effort, getting within six points on Cameron Sparks’ transition drive to cap a 13-5 burst with 4:58 to play.
Then Russell took a timeout and set up a shot for Raby, modifying an offensive set the Red Devils had previously widely used Tuesday night, Groves said.
“They made a little run at us in the third quarter,” Groves said. “Ethan knocked down a huge 3-ball to kind of keep us rolling and keep fighting. We’re trying to finish and fight.”
Raiders coach Brandon Baker is looking for the same.
“Russell just came in and played with a lot more toughness and a lot more urgency early on and got control of the game, and we just had to play uphill,” Baker said. “They made it tough on us and got in our way and made us miss some shots.
“I thought we kept fighting, but it’s hard to play uphill. Once we got close there, we had a couple missed plays, and it just spelled the end there.”
Bobby Hale collected a game-high 24 points for the Red Devils (2-2). Raby added 14 and Austin Clark had 10. Ryan Stump’s nine rebounds led Russell’s 36-23 edge on the glass.
“(The win) gives ‘em a little bit of swag,” Groves said of his players. “They’re starting to get that swag and play with a little bit of confidence. Now they’re not overconfident, but they’re starting to believe in themselves that, hey, we can win ball games. We can compete out here.
“And that’s the mentality that we’re trying to change at Russell: compete every play; fight, fight, fight. And down the stretch, that’s what we did. We gritted one out.”
Sparks’ 18 points paced the Raiders (1-3). Brady Bush dropped in 11. It was the first close game of the season for East Carter, which reached this round with an EKC-opening throttling of Fleming County but had two losses by wide margins.
Baker isn’t worried about that yet.
“We’ve all gotta embrace all aspects of the game, and we’re not doing a very good job of that right now,” he said. “Of course, probably a lot of teams are in this same situation, because it is early. We’re trying to figure out who we’re gonna be and who we want to be.”
The Red Devils meet West Carter in the tournament finals on Thursday.
RUSSELL 13181117—59 E.CARTER 614 1119—50
Russell (59) — Hale 24, Raby 14, Clark 10, Brewer 4, Stump 4, Whitt 3, Atkins, Fannin, Collins. 3-Pt. FG: 3 (Raby 3). FT: 12-20. Fouls: 13.
East Carter (50) — Sparks 18, Bush 11, Bailey 8, Brown 4, Greene 4, Dyer 3, Damron 2, Matthews, Tussey. 3-Pt. FG: 2 (Sparks 2). FT: 813. Fouls: 16.
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Russell's Ethan Raby passes a ball as East Carter's Levi Brown and Karrick Dyer apply pressure.
East Carter's Levi Brown and Russell's Seth Atkins compete for the ball during the third quarter on Tuesday.
KEVIN GOLDY | THE DAILY INDEPENDENT