BY MATTHEW SPARKS
FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL When snow forced the majority of the area’s hardwood schedule to be postponed, the rivalry game between Ashland and Russell was the only show in town Friday night.
After a lackluster first act from both teams, the Red Devils closed the curtain on the Tomcats with a fourth-quarter surge to win, 54-42, at Marvin Meredith Gymnasium.
“It wasn’t a pretty game early on,” Russell coach Bryan Groves said. “We didn’t make shots, but we fought through adversity. We executed in the half court when we needed to. We are putting new things in every day. We fought through a tough rival game when the emotions are high.
“Nothing makes me more proud than to see them fight through adversity like they did in the first half. … Those kind of things excite me, because in previous times, they have folded in those situations. We are making strides in the right direction.”
Point guard Bobby Hale orchestrated Russell’s late push on both ends on the floor. He scored 10 of his gamehigh 19 points in the final frame as the Red Devils outscored Ashland, 21-12, to extend the final margin of a close contest.
Hale was active in the passing lanes on defense. He secured several steals at the top of Russell’s 2-3 zone. Ethan Raby was in double figures with 10. Landon Brewer and Ryan Stump collected 14 and 11 rebounds, respectively.
Groves said the team had a lengthy discussion this week in what he called a “come-to-Jesus meeting.” He feels each player is finding a way to contribute.
“We had a long talk with our top eight guys the other day,” Groves said. “For Bobby, tonight was his night. Ethan hit some big shots in the first half. Austin Clark’s confidence is down. He is not shooting the ball as well as he wants to shoot it, but he is doing the things that we ask him to do. He will have his turn and he will have his night.”
Both teams started the game in the freezer. Ashland (3-10) and Russell (88) were a combined 12-of-50 from the field in the opening half and neither squad hit the 35-percent mark for the game.
Raby splashed in a couple of 3s and added two free throws to spring the Red Devils to a 13-9 advantage after one quarter, a margin they maintained for the rest of the contest.
The Tomcats found success with their dribble penetration and hit several buckets in transition. Ashland cut the deficit to one on two separate occasions, but could get no closer. Russell switched to a zone defense and closed down the lane. The Tomcats were just 2-22 from behind the arc and shot 6-of-17 at the free-throw line.
“That was our game plan going in.” Groves said. “We felt we needed to change defenses throughout the game to keep them a little off-balanced and not let them get comfortable against the zone. In the end, it worked. It can make you look like a hero when it works and it can make you look like a fool when it doesn’t work. I couldn’t be more happier for my guys and my coaching staff. It’s a great win for Russell any time you beat Ashland.”
Devaunte Robinson’s putback cut the Russell lead to 33-32 to begin the fourth quarter. The Red Devils followed with a 13-2 run, punctuated with an and-1 by Brewer off the bounce pass from Stump.
Hale’s late free throws sealed the win for Russell, the second victory for the Red Devils in the past eight games against Ashland.
Chase Villers led the Tomcats with 13 points. Robinson added 10.
Both teams return to action on the same floor today in the Marvin Meredith Classic. Host Russell entertains George Rogers Clark around 5:15 pm. Ashland plays Simon Kenton at 1:45.
Ashland coach Jeremy Howell declined to comment after the game.
Ashland’s Daniel Heaberlin puts up a shot as Russell's Landon Brewer applies pressure.
Russell’s Bobby Hale throws a pass from the top of the key on Friday against Ashland.
The Tomcats’ Chase Villers drives to the basket as the Red Devils’ Ethan Raby plays defense.
PHOTOS BY MARTY CONLEY | FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT