Cov Cath Rolls Over Campbell in State Tournament's First Round
Covington Catholic picked up where they left off in Lexington, by easily taking care of Campbell County, 64-43, in the first round of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena on Wednesday night.
“I thought we started the game with energy, hitting the boards really hard, and then we had that lull that comes from guys not playing in a while,” Cov Cath head coach Scott Ruthsatz said after the game. “We're used to the big floor, used to the big stage and in the second half we really talked about our defense. If we could defensively keep Matt Wilson working inside, force them to take perimeter jump shots then we should be able to get some rebounds and start our offense, and the kids did an excellent job converting in our half-court offense.”
It was the fifth straight game the Colonels have won in the state tournament after becoming state champions last season. It was also a return trip for the Camels who were similarly bounced in the first round of last year's tournament.
Cov Cath sophomore guard Cole VonHandorf had an efficient night with a game-high 29 points on only 16 shots. He tallied his 1,000th point for the Colonels in the game.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year, so I knew we had to control the game, come out early and were clicking all together, passing it around and we were all making our shots so my teammates made it easy on me,” VonHandorf said of his big night.
All throughout the 9th Region Tournament, teams had played a 2-3 zone against the Colonels because of how inconsistently they were able to shoot the ball from the outside. Cov Cath had to figure out other ways to win as their defense helped propel them to the state tournament.
The Camels were no different as they showed zone against the Colonels when the action slowed to half-court action. Cov Cath, on the other hand, looked to push the pace off of any rebound or steal in hopes of not giving Campbell County the chance to set up their zone. Sophomore guard Cole VonHandorf, senior center Bo Schuh and senior guard Cooper Theobald all found easy hoops in this fashion as they attacked the rim early on and ran out to a 6-0 lead.
Of course the Colonels are familiar with Rupp Arena's size and energy after winning the Sweet 16 Tournament a year ago, but the Camels aren't strangers themselves after having played in the first round of last year's tourney as well. They withstood the early Cov Cath charge well and when guard Trent McGovney swished a three-pointer, followed by a Deandre Jackson three from the top of the key, the Camels were right back in the game.
The main focal point for the Camels offense was their very large center, Matt Wilson. The 6'7'' center did find some easy baskets on the evening and was perfect on all six of his field goals, but the Colonels were determined to keep Wilson from killing them in the paint.
“We just need to get constant contact on him,” Ruthsatz said of Wilson. “Whether it's Grant Romes who did a tremendous job, or Will Heppler off of the bench, Bo Schuh, and then you really make those other guys make outside jump shots.”
Once Campbell County evened the score, the two teams went back and forth for the remainder of the first quarter. When Deandre Jackson scored on an easy layup when the Camels went in transition off of a three-point miss, Campbell County found themselves up, 18-14, after the first quarter.
The Colonels were angry at letting their lead slip, though, and they immediately went on a big run to start the second quarter. It was made possible by their defense demonstrated by five empty trips down the court in a row. When Theobald scored on an easy left-handed lay-up set up by a nice Bo Schuh screen, Cov Cath had completed a 12-2 run and increased their lead to 28-20. They maintained a six-point lead at halftime.
After the break, though, it was all Colonels. VonHandorf and Andy Flood got things started with three-pointers each, establishing a double-digit Covington Catholic lead. At that point, the Colonels bench began to play an important factor, as backup center Will Heppler had a nice backdoor pass to VonHandorf, followed by a nice steal and lay up by Austin Sweeney to put his team up by 15 points midway through the third.
The Camels were only able to score a total of six points in the third quarter and by the time they looked up, they were nearly down 20 points in the second half. Cov Cath made it a priority to take the ball hard to the basket and on the majority of these attempts resulted in trips to the foul line for the Colonels.
“Same type of thing as the Region Tournament,” Ruthsatz said about being aggressive towards the rim. “When the opposing team has two or three fouls in the whole first half, then we're not attacking enough. That's not necessarily that we're looking for fouls, we just have to put them into situations where they have to help and we get other guys that are going to the basket.
“It's an overall mentality of not settling for jump shots. If we keep going to the basket, good things will happen. Maybe a foul will be called, maybe it wont, or maybe we get an offensive rebound and I thought that really changed the complexion of us.”
Theobald and VonHandorf alternated chances from the charity stripe, and on the other end, the Camels became increasingly out of whack offensively.
“Down the stretch, my teammates were counting on me, so as a leader, I knew I had to do that for us to come out with the win,” VonHandorf said.
The fourth quarter was more of the same for Covington Catholic as Campbell County resorted to fouling early in the final period. In total, Cov Cath shot 29 free-throws, making 19 of them and the guard tandem of Theobald and VonHandorf combined for 15 of those makes. Theobald finished with 12 points on the evening and talked afterward about how he and the rest of the Colonels were able to keep their emotions in check in such a high-profile venue as Rupp.
“I took what I saw last year from the seniors that did a good job of staying composed,” Theobald said. “I knew the bright lights would be out, but you just have to worry about yourself and everything should come out well.”
The Colonels play the winner of Williamsburg and Doss at 1:30 on Friday afternoon in the KHSAA Boys Sweet 16 quarterfinals.
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photos by Marc Figgins, RCN contributor