EDDYVILLE — The atmosphere that Murray High faced in Monday night’s Kentucky State All-A Classic clash with highly-regarded Lyon County would have broken many teams.
Faced with playing the high-flying Lyons on their home court, the Tigers found themselves in a pressure cooker late in the fourth quarter. Having grabbed as much as an eight-point lead in the final four minutes, they had watched Lyon scratch back to cut the lead to a single point.
Then, what Tigers Head Coach Dior Curtis had been preaching to his team was demonstrated, tournament toughness.
“I said, ‘Fellas, this is what we’ve practiced for, this moment right here, to go on to the next round of the All-A state championship,’” Curtis said in a radio interview with WNBS after his team emerged with a 54-50 win to advance in the All-A. “I told the guys that this is a game of runs, so they made a run (after a 12-0 run gave Murray High (10-5) a 49-41 lead midway through the final quarter), but we made the last one to finish the game off.
“I’ve been telling the guys that I think we’re built for this time of year. We can be a championship team and we played like it tonight.”
It is not known when the Tigers will next play in the Classic. However, it is known that the opponent will be either Clinton County or Owensboro Catholic.
That matchup was made possible because the Tigers steadfastly refused to let the Lyons (16-3) have the lead down the stretch.
After guard Gunnar Bingham capped a 7-0 run with a pair of free throws to pull Lyon within 49-48, Murray High guard Grant Whitaker’s driving score extended the lead to three points. Lyon forward Brady Shoulders then cut the lead back to 51-50 wth a short jumper.
Both teams then missed several shots, leading to the Tigers having the ball with 14 seconds left. Senior guard Gabe Taylor was fouled as Murray High attempted to inbound the ball and sank two huge free throws to extend the lead back to three.
Lyon star freshman guard Travis Perry then missed a tying 3-pointer, leading to the Lyons having three offensive putbacks to cut the lead. But the Tigers did not yield as all three shots were contested before Taylor secured the rebound with 2.8 seconds left. He successfully made the first of two charity tosses at the other end to put the game out of reach.
“Gabe Taylor .. huge free throws down the stretch,” Curtis said of Taylor, who ended wth 14 points. Murray High ended the night a solid 8-of-10 at the foul line. “We practiced on that (after a lackluster showing in a win Saturday against Madisonville-North Hopkins) and we talked about that.”
The game was billed as a showdown between two of western Kentucky’s top underclassmen in Perry, who already has an offer from top-10 major college Creighton and Murray High sophomore guard Whitaker and, on a night where scoring was tough, both led their teams. Whitaker won the individual battle by scoring 19 points, while Perry emerged with 16, some 11 below his average,
And Curtis said his team was motivated defensively.
“Yeah, before the game, I had one of the officials come up to me and tell me that when Perry scored 18 points tonight, they were wanting to stop the game because that would be his 2,000th point. I said we’re not to going to let him get it. He said OK,” Curtis said. “I told (the Tigers) about that and they took it personally. They didn’t want him to get 18 points and get to 2,000 tonight, not against the Tigers.”
Trey Boggess also had 14 points for Murray High.
Curtis also said the efforts of senior forward Dijon Miles (four points and several big defensive plays), freshman guard Drew May (a big fourth-quarter basket) and sophomore forward Lincoln English (no points but several rebounds) were huge in the win. All three came from the bench to contribute.
“I told those guys they had to have their big boy pants tonight and they played some ball for us,” Curtis said, “We expect these guys to contribute to our program.”