The Pulaski County Maroons came into Sunday’s night match-up at the Wigwam with Southwestern having won six straight games against the Warriors.
Al Gover and the Maroons made it win number seven on Sunday evening, as they came away with an 80-66 victory over the Warriors in the championship game of the first annual Lake Cumberland Holiday Hoops Classic.
For Pulaski, the victory clinched the tournament championship and allowed them to up their record to 9-3 on the year. The win brought a Southwestern nine-game winning streak to a halt.
The Maroon head coach was pleased to come away with the victory, but it’s just a stepping stone that Pulaski hopes to build on.
“We want to win every game we play, but in the broad scheme of things, that’s not what we want - we want to get to Rupp Arena,” told Gover. “This is just one step in that direction. We’ve got to take this and build on it. We’re not going to be satisfied until we reach that goal of winning region.”
After the Maroons led for much of the contest, Southwestern took their first lead of the night just over a minute into the second period, when junior David Kapinga broke a 17-17 tie with consecutive free-throws to put the Warriors up by two points at 19-17.
The Warriors would lead by as much as six points at 29-23, but a pair of treys from Pulaski seniors Taylor Gover and Kody Johnson would cut into the Southwestern lead. With 2:37 left until the intermission, two free-throws from Gover knotted the game up at 31 apiece.
Edwards and Gover would then trade baskets, keeping things tied up at 33-33. After Gover’s putback, Johnson hit a trey and Sean Ross made a lay-up to give the Maroons a five-point, 38-33 lead. Javonte Groves, a senior at Southwestern, would hit a three-pointer from the corner to cut the Pulaski lead to just two points.
Pulaski freshman Mason Helton tallied his only point of the game with ten seconds remaining in the opening half, when he hit a free-throw to give the Maroons a 39-36 lead, which would be the score at the intermission.
The Warriors would attempt to make a comeback in the third stanza, but three points would be as close as they would get. A 9-2 Pulaski run would help separate the margin, as the game went from a one-point game to a nine-point game in the blink of an eye.
After three quarters of action, the Maroons held a seven-point, 55-48 advantage over Southwestern.
Much of the fourth quarter would be spent at the free-throw line, as there were a lot of fouls and much higher intensity level. As close Southwestern would get in the fourth quarter would be five points, but the margin would end at 14 points, as the Maroons came away with a 14-point win.
The Maroon coaching staff made some defensive adjustments that paid off in the end.
“I thought we played well,” stated Gover. “In the first half, we had a little trouble with Kapinga and Edwards one-on-one, but we made a couple of adjustments. I thought we did a much better job in the second half, as we kept them out of the lane. Overall, I think our defensive effort was pretty good.”
On the other side of the bench, second-year Warrior coach Steve Wright wasn’t too happy with his squad’s performance in the 14-point setback to the Maroons.
“It wasn’t very good,” said Wright, who saw his club fall to 12-3 on the year with the loss. “I just never thought that we got into any kind of rhythm offensively and our defense was really spotty. We had some good possessions and some real battles, but we just didn’t seem to be ourselves tonight. Yesterday (against Somerset), we did a lot of good things, but today, we just didn’t get into a rhythm.”
That being said, Wright credited the Maroons on coming away with the victory, stating that Pulaski simply did everything better than his team did.
“You’ve got to give Pulaski a lot of credit, I thought they played really well,” said the Southwestern coach. “They shot the better than we did, they rebounded better than we did, they scored down lot better than we did, they shot the ball better than we did, they shot free-throws better than we did, they held on to the ball better than we did, and they seemed to play with a purpose. When that happens, you’re going to get a ‘L.’”
Johnson led all scorers in the game with 23 points and was named the Player of the Game. Taylor Gover finished right behind Johnson with 22 points and was tabbed as the first recipient ever of the Coach Avery Hatfield Award, which was awarded to the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Two other Maroons joined Johnson and Gover in double figures, as Tyler Goins tallied 14 points and Blake Burton scored 11 points.
Southwestern was led by Edwards’ 20 points and eight rebounds. Kapinga chimed with 17 points, while Justin Schulz scored 13 points.
Fouls were aplenty in this one, as both teams combined to shoot 60 free-throws. Southwestern went 21 of 33 from the line, while the Maroons made 17 of their 27 shots at the charity stripe.
Southwestern will return to action on Thursday, January 3rd, when they will host Somerset for the second time in less than a week. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Wigwam, the home of the Warriors.
Pulaski will hit the hardwood again tonight, when they will travel east to face the Corbin Redhounds.
PC - 17 22 16 25 - 80
SW - 16 20 12 18 - 66
PULASKI COUNTY (9-3): Johnson 23, Gover 22, Goins 14, Burton 11, Ross 6, Laign 3, Helton 1.
SOUTHWESTERN (12-3): Edwards 20, Kapinga 17, Schulz 13, Collier 4, Gaskin 3, Groves 3.