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Photos: Cov Cath Pulls Away from Holmes; Conner Beats Ryle

(1) Covington Catholic 54, (3) Holmes 42 

Oftentimes, when two teams that are evenly matched in talent and style face one another, the team that remains most disciplined wins out. That was no different at The Bank of Kentucky Center on Friday night as top-ranked Cov Cath outlasted third-ranked Holmes, 54-42, in an intense and physical affair.

Cov Cath guard Cole VonHandorf led the game with 16 points, many of which came in crunch time. Holmes was led by senior center Rod Avery who had 15 points but was strapped with foul trouble for long stretches of the game.

Both teams came out with perhaps too much energy as each turned the ball over trying to push the pace.

Early on Rod Avery looked like he was poised for a big game for Holmes as he quickly racked up six points in the first quarter, but then he found himself in foul trouble and had to sit the remainder of the half on the bench with two fouls. It seemed like a good time for Cov Cath and their center Bo Schuh to take advantage of Avery's absence but then he too picked up his second foul and had to come out for the rest of the second quarter as well.

With the two opposing big men on the bench, the focus fell to the team's scoring guards James Bolden for Holmes and Cole VonHandorf for Covington Catholic. Each had dry stretches of scoring and did not shoot particularly well throughout the second quarter and the teams were forced to look elsewhere for points.

“I thought the first half, we gave up so many opportunities,” said Cov Cath coach Scott Ruthsatz. “I thought that between the layups we missed and really not shooting very well from the free-throw line that we could have built a bigger lead for ourselves, but I give the kids credit.”

For Holmes, that responsibility came from junior guard Markel McClendon who sank two three-pointers to give him six points. The Bulldogs also enjoyed quality contributions from bench big men Andrew Arnold and also Brandon Moore who typically sees few minutes but certainly rose to the occasion when his name was called in the first half. The pair combined for 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks while Avery was on the bench, which helped the Bulldogs go into the locker room with a 25-24 lead.

In the second half, the intensity kicked up a notch with each team contesting the passing lanes and harassing the parameter more. The physical play seemed to bother Rod Avery who moved slowly around the bench during third-quarter timeouts and looked in pain. Avery soon picked up his fourth foul and Cov Cath responded with back-to-back baskets in his absence, giving them a four-point lead that they would control for the rest of the way.

The play became rougher and the fouls started to mount for both teams as tempers began to be pushed to their limits. The Holmes bench was not happy with the fact that their team shot 14 less free-throws than Covington Catholic, but they could only blame themselves for the 14 turnovers they committed on the evening.

The carelessness with the ball, coupled with their scoring leader James Bolden shooting the ball poorly, going 4-13 from the field and missing all six of his three-pointers, began to take its toll on the Bulldogs. Bolden is now 1-17 from deep and has a combined 20 points in the last two games, both of which have been losses for his team.

Into the fourth quarter and maintaining a consistent but small lead, Holmes grew more desperate for steals which allowed Bo Schuh to find VonHandorf on backdoor cuts for easy layups.

“They were really denying the wings, they're trying to be aggressive because we're up four so they're going to try and get a steal, but we have certain plays where we try to offset that athleticism and really aggressiveness that's just simple backdoor cuts and that's one way you can keep those guys off-kilter,” Ruthsatz said.

If it wasn't the backdoor, VonHandorf scored on transition baskets with his dominant left hand on some nifty behind-the-back dribbling. Down the stretch, he was the more consistent scoring guard and played a pivotal role in closing out the game for the Colonels.

“We really challenged especially Bo Schuh in the second half who was kind of sleep walking in the first half and he got fouls and got taken out of the game mentally,” Ruthsatz said. “We need his senior leadership, he's our guy, he's a three year senior and he came through big time in the second half.”

He did, though, keep Holmes in the game when he was called for a charge with under three minutes left and his team only up by four points. Andrew Arnold made him pay on the other end with a nice shot underneath cutting the lead to two. Not to be outdone by another garbage-man, however, Grant Romes scored on his own lay-up, followed by another backdoor cut by VonHandorf putting CCH back up six.

“I think it's our guys playing within the system, playing their roles and at the of the day they all did what they needed to do to get the win,” said Ruthsatz.

Down six points with under two minutes left is a tight spot, but it is far from insurmountable. The Bulldogs had a chance, but they lacked discipline when it mattered the most, starting with an air-ball three from the corner for Bolden, followed by not boxing out Cooper Theobald on a free throw on the other end, and ending with Markel McClendon getting a technical foul after missing a three-pointer and melting down on the sidelines, yelling at his coaches and bench.

After that little tornado, the Colonels were up 10 and the game was lost for the Bulldogs.

Cov Cath plays again on Saturday when they host Taft (Cin.) at 7pm.  Holmes also plays on Saturday when they travel to Montgomery County to play the top-ranked team in the state, Trinity (Lou.) at the Joe B. Hall Classic. 

Conner 71, Ryle  59 

Conner blew out Ryle in the first game of the double-header held at The Bank of Kentucky Center, 71-59, on Friday night.

The Cougars led for the vast majority of the game thanks to three big scorers on the evening. Guard Jared Barnes led the way for Conner with 21 points, but teammates Kyler Padgett and Michael Scott also had healthy contributions with 19 and 18 points respectively.

In the first half, Conner moved the ball well and made open shots on a regular basis to power them to an 11-point halftime lead. Barnes was hot from the outside from start as he steadied the pace for the Cougars and kept the Raiders in the rearview mirror.

Ryle struggled to find any consistent scorers on their roster in either half and once the two teams came out of the locker room after halftime, Conner continued to pour it on. Once they reached a double-digit lead, they had the game in hand. For the rest of the way, they would coast to the victory.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photos by Brian Frey, RCN contributor

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