BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL With the 63rd District seeding mystery solved Thursday, Russell used Friday’s game against Fleming County as a real- world workshop to prepare for Lewis County looming in the district semifinals in a little over a week.
“Everything we do, we’re gonna relate it to the district tournament,” Red Devils coach Bryan Groves said. “At the end of the third quarter, I said, ‘Look, we’re down three. If this is the district tournament, how are we gonna respond?’ “We came out and we responded and we guarded. When we guard, we shoot the ball a lot better, and it worked out.”
Down 46-43 with seven minutes to play, Russell closed on a 19-9 run to beat the Panthers, 62-55, at Marvin Meredith Gymnasium.
Austin Clark’s jumper with 5:29 remaining put the Red Devils on top for good at 5049. Sophomore Tristan Miller drained two 3pointers during the run, the second of which stretched the Red Devils’ lead to four with 3:45 remaining.
“I just come down the court and my teammates find me,” Miller said. “I just gotta make shots when I’m open.”
Miller is the leading 3point shooter in the 16th Region, having converted at a 47.9-percent clip on the season entering the game.
“Tristan’s been stroking it,” Groves said. “When he’s feeling it, he has the green light, and we say ‘go.’ Hats off to him, he’s grown up. He’s not playing like a sophomore anymore.”
Chaz Whitt had 14 points and eight rebounds, scoring six of those points in the fourth quarter, and Clark scored 13. Bobby Hale dropped in 12 points, 10 in the second half.
Fleming County led at each quarter stop except the last one. The Panthers used a 7-0 burst to end the third quarter, including two Jordan Hughes 3pointers and a Josh Crump free throw for his 13th point.
But that was Fleming County’s leading scorer’s only tally of the second half.
“We obviously needed to stop Crump,” Miller said. “He knocked (down) a couple big shots at the start there, and we just wanted to lock him down, and it won us the ball game.”
Groves credited Russell assistant Rick Hensley with suggesting the defensive look the Red Devils settled on down the stretch.
The game matched two of the hotter teams in the region. Russell (12-12) won for the 10th time in 13 games after a 2-9 start to the season and improved to .500 for the first time since the Red Devils were 1-1. Fleming County (1117) has won eight of 11 after starting 3-14.
The Panthers have been without Zac Alexander all year, save one bucket on senior night against Lewis County, due to a football injury and were missing Jaden Campbell due to injury for the fourth straight game. Coach Chris Stapleton is still working on fine-tuning Fleming County’s rotation before it hosts Rowan County in the 61st District Tournament semifinals.
The Panthers won at Bracken County on Thursday night, traveled to Russell on Friday and go to Buckhorn today.
“Our announcer said we’re on the Willie Nelson tour,” Stapleton cracked. “We’re taking it day-byday. ... It’s nice to have a lot of games here to finish the season so we can get those guys that experience.”
Cole Saunders led Fleming County with 14 points, draining four treys. Stapleton hoped it was an “aha moment” for the younger brother of Cole Saunders, a starting guard for the Panthers’ back-to-back region tournament champions in 2013 and ‘14.
“I’m really hard on Cole,” Stapleton said. “Tonight I think he kind of saw, ‘I know why coach is getting on me, because I can score the ball and shoot the ball well.’” Crump pitched in 13 points and Kaleb Flanery had 10 for Fleming County.
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