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Covington Catholic Escapes Clay County in Sweet 16

Covington Catholic 80, Clay County 78

Perhaps because they are battle-tested—having climbed over the likes of Holmes, Newport Central Catholic and Madison Central already this season—Covington Catholic showed its grit by fighting off a rugged and beefy opponent in Clay County, 80-78, in the first-round of the 2014 Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' Sweet 16 State Tournament at Rupp Arena.

It became something of a scoring duel between Clay County guard Tyler McDaniel who had a game high with 29 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, and Cov Cath guard Nick Ruthsatz who finished with 28, and nine in the fourth. Down by three with nine seconds left, McDaniel rose at the top of the key for the game-tying attempt, but freshman guard Cole VonHandorf reached his hand out and knocked the ball away before a shot could unfold. VonHandorf made one of his two free-throws once he was fouled after collecting the steal and the game seemed over.

McDaniel, though, had once more trick up his sleeve as he induced Ruthsatz to foul him beyond the arc. The shot just rimmed off, or else it would have given the Tigers a real chance to tie the game with under five seconds left. As it were, McDaniel attempted an intentional miss on his third free-throw which caused a lane violation and the game was decided.

Early on, the Colonels were feeling good, as they knocked down almost everything from the outside, shooting 8-12 from long-range in the first half. The excellent outside shooting would continue as they finished 12-18 and two shy of the Sweet 16 record for threes. But it was scoring inside that frustrated Cov Cath throughout the evening.

Clay County fields a wide front line that packs the paint and becomes hard to move underneath, yet they aren't by any means oafish.

“The (Clay County) big men were much more agile from what I saw on tape,” Cov Cath Scott Ruthsatz said after the game.

Clay County center Jake Allen and forward Trey Farmer each had double-digit rebounds and combined for 21 boards. Farmer looked especially adept at getting inside the Cov Cath zone and scoring with a soft runner. Farmer finished with 19 points.

“We had to be really aggressive on the boards,” coach Ruthsatz explained. “We have to be men around the basketball.”

Covington Catholic was up by as much as 10 in the first quarter, but then the wheels fell off in the second. Temporarily slowed from the outside, and nothing falling in the paint, the Colonels compounded their misery with a string of bad turnovers. Once the horn sounded for halftime, Clay County had built a seven-point lead on a 19-2 run to close out the quarter. Ruthsatz' 12 points were overshadowed by his six turnovers and things looked sour for the large fan base there to support their Colonels.

“We had to fire them up at the half,” coach Ruthsatz said about his team. “I thought the turnaround came from the charges, offensive fouls, and some of those guys came off the bench.”

The Cov Cath bench did play a vital role both on defense and rebounding. While no Colonel had more than five rebounds, eight different players recorded at least one and equaled Clay County with 30, which did not look likely in the second quarter. One could see coach Ruthsatz challenging his players to box out as they came to the bench and the message was heard.

Throughout the fourth, the Colonels had to scrap and claw to preserve their lead, but they never relinquished it despite many close calls. To withstand such a heavy run before halftime, and still pull out of it and control the fourth quarter shows the strong character this team possesses. Coach Ruthsatz said it best.

“It was a terrific effort. It was everything we could handle.”

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Other games from Day 2 of the first round at the KHSAA Whitaker Bank Sweet 16

McCracken County 81, Wayne County 74

In a contest that saw 57 fouls called, McCracken County set a new record with 34 made free-throws in a Boys Sweet 16 game to outlast Wayne County, 81-74, in first-round action of the Boys Sweet 16.

McCracken County was led in scoring by guard Jared Burnett with 23, who paired with sharp-shooter Caleb Stonecipher and point guard Kam Chumbler to combine for 27-31 from the charity stripe. The fouls were particularly harmful to Wayne County as they had three starters foul out and the other two end with four each. The Cardinals were frustrated all day and their scoring sensation, guard Peyton Woods, was whistled out of his game and never got comfortable, shooting 4-16 from the field and finishing well below his average with 17 points. Teammate Trey Blevins picked up some of the scoring slack with 24 points, but each one seemed like hard work to achieve.

Meanwhile, Chumbler ran the Mustang offense like a veteran floor-general and managed open looks for Stonecipher and Burnett when they weren't being fouled. The trio generated enough offense to pull the mustangs over the hump and into the next round.

Bowling Green 65, Knott County Central 58

Bowling Green moves on to the quarter-finals of the Boys' Sweet 16 as they survive Knott County Central in an emotional, and at times, ugly game, 65-58.

After the first quarter, it looked as if record lows could be achieved with a score of 9-4, as both teams appeared tense and possibly nervous from the big atmosphere of Rupp Arena. Bowling Green carried on with their balanced scoring approach, getting baskets from nine different players, while Knott County Central looked for their go-to guy, guard Cameron Justice, who had no problems shooting, but had plenty of problems making shots. Justice looked for foul calls on the majority of his shots and it effected his rhythm and confidence when he wasn't getting them. He finished with a game-high 25 points, but he shot 8-27 to get that many.

For Bowling Green, senior center Joseph Ayers, turned in a quality overall day with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. His highlight of the day was a monster fourth-quarter ally-oop dunk set up nicely off of the glass by guard Malik Caruthers. Ayers was called for a technical on the play for hanging on the rim, which did briefly breathe life into KCC, but that breath was soon extinguished and the Purple move on.

Bardstown 75. Pleasant Ridge Park 70

The dynamic of the game was altered before it even began as Pleasant Ridge Park's leading scorer and rebounder, Lamontray Harris, was suspended due to receiving two technical fouls in a game previously which mandates an automatic two-game suspension. Without him, PRP fought valiantly but could not overcome the quickness of Bardstown, as the Tigers rolled to the quarter-finals, 75-70.

The back-court of Eljay Cowherd and Tavon Johnson were a blur all night, as the two raced up and down the floor and combined for 43 points. Cowherd led the way with 25, and looked proficient in the fast break. Bardstown big man, Seivon Schooling, made his presence felt with 16 points and 10 rebounds as well.

The Panthers were never able to find a reliable enough scorer to fill Harris' gap. Guard Antonio McDaniels tried to be they guy, and did lead his team in scoring with 18, but he shot 5-16 in the process. Lanky swingman, D'Angelo Hunter, had a more efficient game, and finished with 17, but he wasn't enough firepower in the end as Bardstown stayed in control throughout the evening.

In the lower bracket of the quarter-final round of the Boys Sweet 16, Covington Catholic (30-2) will take on Bardstown (27-6) and McCracken County (25-8) will take on Bowling Green (28-6).

Story & photos by RCN sports reporter Bryan Burke who is reporting from Rupp Arena throughout the tournament. Follow Bryan on Twitter @mojokong