CENTRAL POINT &

When it came to sheer coldness, the gusting snow outside the gym had nothing on the Ashland High boys basketball team inside it Tuesday.




The Grizzlies struggled to hit open shots, especially early on, and Crater took advantage by claiming a crucial 62-54 Southern Sky Conference victory at Crater High. With the win, the Comets (12-6, 5-1 SSC) cut the Grizzlies' lead in the league standings to a half game.




Ashland (11-9, 6-1 SSC) has five games left and Crater four; the two teams meet again Feb. 15 in Ashland &

a game that could determine which team will win the conference championship and earn a home playoff game, and which will have to travel across the state.




The 10th-ranked Grizzlies, who entered the contest on a six-game winning streak, shot just 41 percent (21-for-51) from the field, including 1-for-12 from 3-point land. The Crater defense had something to do with that &

7-foot post Jared Murphy terrorized Ashland with five blocks &

but most of Ashland's scoring woes stemmed from its inability to knock down open jumpers.




"Typically, we're shooting pretty well now, so I don't know," Ashland head coach Larry Kellems said. "We just came out really flat. We just could not get a bucket. They were good looks, but we just couldn't get them to drop."




Crater, which shot 67 percent (24-for-36), had no such trouble. Josh Lokeno's — put Crater up 13-2 seven minutes into the game and Nick Brothers' bomb early in the second quarter gave the Comets their biggest lead of the first half, 24-8. Alternating rallies followed, first Ashland with a 12-1 spurt, then Crater with an 11-0 run, and early in the third the two teams were pretty much back where they started, with the Comets up by 16, 36-20.




Brothers led five Comets in double figures with 14 points. Matt Lipski, who kept Ashland within striking distance despite playing most of the game in foul trouble, led all scorers with 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting.




A quick six-point rally in the last 33 seconds brought Ashland back to within six points, 42-36, heading into the fourth. There, Ashland got as close as four on two Dillon Thigpen free throws with 2:41 to go, but consecutive inside scores by Drew Runberg and Murphy froze Ashland's comeback bid.




"I think it means that everything goes through Ashland," Crater coach Troy McNichols said, referring to the Feb. 15 rematch. "Had we not won this game, our shot at league &

we could have just kissed it goodbye. It's huge as far as that goes, because we feel fairly confident against a couple of the other schools that are in our league."




Lipski and Garrett Tygerson (10 points) were the only Grizzlies in double figures, and both also led Ashland with six rebounds apiece. Thigpen, who scored 16 points against Crater in the first meeting between the two teams, was held to nine points, including four in the second half.




"We didn't get to do our regular routine before (the game)," Thigpen said, "we haven't had practice in three days because there was a snow day (Monday) and they wouldn't let us shoot around, so we pretty much just played like a team that hasn't practiced in five days. It showed in our shooting."




Murphey, Robbins and Lokeno scored 11 points apiece for the Comets, who survived an Ashland full-court press that nearly turned the game around in the second quarter. Murphey was a key, and an unlikely force on offense that helped neutralize Lipski, who picked up his third foul with 47 seconds left in the first half.




"I think my teammates have more confidence in me now," said Murphey.




The game was nearly a complete reversal from the first Ashland-Crater game, played Jan. 11 in Ashland. In that game, the Grizzlies led from start to finish and ended up with a 49-41 victory. Thus, Tuesday represented a chance for Ashland to basically vaporize the Comets' league title hopes. Instead, Crater is a contender again.




"We've got to just focus on each and every game," Kellems said, "and when we get Crater back at home, we're going to be ready."




ASHLAND (54) &

Lipski 20, Tygerson 10, Thigpen 9, Raymond 6, Moskowitz 4, Javna 2, Sebrell 2, Clement 1. Totals: 21-52 11-15 54.




CRATER (62) &

Brothers 14, Murphy 13, Robbins 11, Lokeno 11, Runberg 8, Dalton 5. Totals: 23-35 13-21 62.




Ashland4161618 ""54




Crater13171220""62




3-point goals &

Ashland 1-10 (Thigpen 1), Crater 3-7 (Brothers 2, Lokeno 1). Fouled out &

Thigpen.




JV score &

Ashland 56, Crater 41.




Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.