The misses started in the second quarter and piled up in the third, but that didn't stop Ashland High senior Dillon Thigpen from shooting again and again, and again.
"Like we always say," teammate Garrett Tygerson said, "we do affirmations before each game and (one is) 'good shooters have short memories.' He always has a short memory and we always know he's going to bounce right back."
He did and they did. And the timing wasn't bad, either.
Thigpen scored eight of his team-high 17 points in the last four-and-a-half minutes as Ashland won a crucial Southern Sky Conference showdown with archrival Crater 44-40 Friday night at a jam packed Mountain Avenue Gym.
Thigpen's final bucket, a driving layup, gave the Grizzlies a 41-35 lead with two and a half minutes to go. That set up a frantic finish, during which the Comets stormed back, only to miss two chances in the final minute to either tie or take the lead. On the last of those, junior guard Travis Robbins missed a shot from just inside the 3-point line. Ashland's Matt Lipski grabbed the rebound and Cameron Clement hit two free throws with 2.1 seconds left to clinch it.
"It's an amazing feeling &
it's unbelievable," said Lipski, who had nine points, 12 rebounds and three assists. "This is fun, to play a game like this with the conference championship on the line, both teams have a chance and whoever wins gets it. Great win, great finish."
The victory gives the first-place Grizzlies (13-9, 8-1 SSC) a — 1/2-game lead over the second-place Comets (13-7, 6-2) in the league standings plus the head-to-head tie-breaker. It's a cushion that should hold up &
Ashland has three games left on its schedule, all against teams the Grizzlies have beat handily, while Crater has four.
Unlike the first two meetings of the season between the longtime rivals, this one was close from beginning to end. Ashland's largest lead was by seven, and that was chopped down to two only minutes into the second quarter. There were eight lead changes in the second half, the last coming on Thigpen's — from the corner with 4:20 to go.
After a blistering start, Thigpen struggled mightily from the field in the second and third quarters, but he heated up late and finished 6-for-13 from the field, including 4-for-10 on 3s.
"He's a shooter," Ashland head coach Larry Kellems said. "He got us here, we've got to play with him and go to him. He's our go-to guy from the outside."
Ashland took what looked like a comfortable six-point lead with 2:32 to go, but Brothers swished a — and Josh Lokeno came up with a steal and two free throws to get the Comets within a point, 41-40, with 1:55 to go.
Brothers was outstanding for the Comets, finishing with 17 points, four steals, four assists and four rebounds.
Clement threw the ball away on Ashland's next possession, but Lipski erased the mistake by stealing the ball back, from Jared Murphy, with 44 seconds left. After a Crater foul, Jesse Javna hit the front end of a one-and-one and missed the second. Thigpen ran down the long rebound for Ashland, but a Crater trap led to a Clement travel with 23.8 seconds left.
That gave the Comets one final shot, and Robbins' look was a good one.
"We had a specific set that we wanted to run to get something going to the basket," Crater head coach Troy McNichols said. "They took away the first two looks because they've seen it before, but the secondary looks were wide open and we got a great shot.
"We really wanted to try to get stuff going to the basket, but like I told the guys, if that stuff gets shut down, you've got your perimeter people available. We got a great look, it just didn't go in."
Tygerson was Ashland's second-leading scorer with 10 points. Clement added four points and three assists. For the Comets, Lokeno had 10 points, six assists and five rebounds, and Drew Runberg had eight rebounds and three blocks.
"We just are riding on cloud nine right now after beating them," Kellems said. "Every time we've seen them they're a better team. I wouldn't be surprised if they're not at state also. We plan on being there."
Crater (40) &
Robbins 7, Brothers 17, Lokeno 10, Dalton 1, Runberg 2, Murphy 3. Totals: 13 7-12 40.
Ashland (44) &
Thigpen 17, Javna 1, Clement 4, Moskowitz 3, Tygerson 10, Lipski 9, Sebrell. Totals: 17 6-10 44.
3-point goals &
Crater 7 (Brothers 4, Robbins 3); Ashland 4 (Thigpen 4).
Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.