BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL Chaz Whitt typically represents Russell in the center circle for jump balls to begin basketball games.
On his own Senior Night against West Carter on Tuesday, he didn’t — and Whitt was perfectly fine with that.
“I’m just really happy for Stump, (coming off a) torn ACL,” Whitt said. “I think it’s awesome for him getting to start a game. Awesome.”
Ryan Stump, who tore his left ACL in the Eastern Kentucky Conference football preseason Grid-o-Rama on Aug. 12, made the first appearance in a regular season game of his senior year.
Stump, sporting a bulky black brace on his left knee, even won the opening tip — “I was shocked. I was like, holy cow, he’s still got it!” Whitt said — and it was mostly smooth sailing from there for the Red Devils in a 66-37 victory over the Comets at Marvin Meredith Gymnasium.
Bobby Hale scored 23 points, while Whitt posted 12 points and seven rebounds and Brandon Rose notched 11 points off the bench for Russell.
It isn’t unusual for a team’s starting lineup on senior night to be composed entirely of 12thgraders. What made things problematic for the Red Devils is that they have eight of them, so coach Bryan Groves had his seniors determine the starters by voting on Monday.
The democratic process yielded a first five of Stump, Hale, Jax Downs, Anthony Devereaux and Jared Fannin.
“That shows a lot of selfless- ness from our seniors.
Some of those guys have been in that moment, and some of those guys haven’t,” Groves said.
“That’s only gonna bring us together and help us out, and they were cheering on the side over here.”
Even with the unusual starting lineup, Russell got off to an 8-2 start.
Senior Austin Clark came off the bench for the transition layup and-1 that put the Red Devils ahead for good midway through the first period.
Russell shot 27-for-48 from the field (56.3 percent) while holding the Comets to 15-for-47 shooting (31.9 percent) and forcing 21 West Carter turnovers, leading Groves to declare that “it was our defense that won this one tonight.”
The Red Devils (11-12) shot the gap in West Carter passing lanes to get out in transition time and again, and Russell’s passing, led by point guard Hale, was incisive into the post.
That was a point of emphasis for the Red Devils at halftime, their coach said.
“When (Whitt) plays really hard and he cleans up the glass like he did the second half, and Fannin gets in there and cleans up and fights for rebounds, we’re pretty good,” Groves said.
Rodney Evans, Tanner Glancy and Ethan Adkins each had seven points for West Carter (7-15), which got within seven points on Evans’ transition layup with 6:24 to go in the third quarter but was outscored 31-9 from that point forward.
Comets coach Jeremy Webb extolled the strength of Russell’s schedule, calling the Red Devils’ sub-.500 record deceptive.
“When we don’t come ready to play, come a little bit flat, that’s what’s gonna happen to you against a good team,” Webb said. “We didn’t move the basketball tonight, didn’t move without the basketball, weren’t near as sharp as what we have been playing, and they take advantage of that.”
While West Carter lost for the 11th time in 13 games after a 5-4 start to the season, Russell improved to 9-3 since a 2-9 start.
“I think at the beginning, we were playing a lot of ‘me’ basketball,” Whitt said. “We were a lot of individuals. But I think over time, now we’re playing a lot more as a team, and I think that’s really helped us, and I think that’s why we’re winning a lot right now.”
Stump played a few seconds over two minutes to begin the game, which was what his doctor had cleared him to do Tuesday, Groves said. He hopes Stump can keep building upon that a little at a time, with three more regular season games scheduled.
“It’s still nerve-racking,” Groves said. “I know his belly was sitting there ... he went in (to the locker room) at 10 minutes (before tipoff); we normally stay out until eight. He probably had to go to the bathroom or something.”
Russell ended a ninegame losing streak in the series, the last seven by an average of 17 points per game. The Red Devils had last beaten West Carter on Jan. 15, 2013 in the 16th Region All “A” Classic semifinals, the last year Russell was eligible for the small-school tournament.
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