Warren Central just didn’t have enough left in the tank.
After cruising past Southwestern and Pikeville in their first two games, the Dragons’ fatigue showed in a 75-46, season-ending loss to Scott County – the state’s top-ranked team – in the semifinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen on Saturday evening at Rupp Arena.
“We ran into a heckuva basketball team … simple as that,” Warren Central coach William Unseld said. “They shot it well – we didn’t. We ran out of gas a little bit. They played well. Give them all the credit. It just wasn’t our night.”
Scott County – which improved to 37-1 on its season with Saturday’s win – lived up to its title of “state’s best team” by completely taking Central out of its usual offensive groove and controlling the game from start to finish.
The Cardinals held the Dragons to 15-of-50 (30 percent) shooting from the field, forced them to commit 13 turnovers and finished with a 31-28 advantage in the rebounding category. Additionally, Scott County scored 20 points off turnovers and earned 22 points from its bench
“It was a tough one,” Unseld said. “They made shots and we didn’t. We went 6-of-23 from three after we had shot it well in the first two games. A lot of them rolled in and out. It just wasn’t our night. It wasn’t our night.”
Saturday’s loss wrapped up the successful career of Kentucky Mr. Basketball candidate and Wright State signee Skyelar Potter, along with Jordan Cousin, Micale Mee and Kemal Esmic. Potter scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Cousin added 17 and five.
It may haven’t ended how they had wanted, but the Dragons’ senior class is proud of everything it has accomplished – especially this season.
“We’ve all been together for a long time, so it’s just great to be with the team I’ve been together with since my freshman year,” Potter said. “Micale came in my sophomore season – and we’ve just grinded since then.”
With Scott County’s win, they’ll now meet the winner of Covington Catholic and Oldham County in Sunday’s championship at 2 p.m. ET.
The Cardinals won the opening tipoff, scored just seven seconds in and proved to be the aggressors early.
Scott County led just 10-5 at the 2:09 mark of the first quarter but used a 12-0 run to build a 22-7 lead early into the second. Warren Central’s deficit soon went to 28-9, and it had dug itself into a 37-17 hole at halftime.
“They pushed us out on the floor, and we didn’t screen or sprint back,” Unseld said. “I think we were really fatigued. We were tired. At the same time, they’re a great defensive team. They force you to do some things you don’t usually do. They’re a heckuva defensive team. We just couldn’t get our motor going.”
Scott County shot a scorching 54 percent (15-of-28) in the opening half and scored most of its points in transition. Glenn Covington was already up to 10 points at the break on 4-of-7 shooting – including two three-pointers.
Michael Moreno led Scott County with 15 points, while Covington added 13 and Diablo Stewart scored 11.
Defensively, the Cardinals limited the Dragons from getting anything going offensively, as they held them to just 6-of-22 (27 percent) shooting and forced seven turnovers. Additionally, Scott County was outrebounding Central 17-12.
“They’re a really good basketball team,” said Unseld. “I see why they’re 37-1 and haven’t lost in the state. They’re really good. Give them all the credit. They got in us.”
Potter had 12 points to lead the Dragons at intermission.
Warren Central may have been down by 20, but it didn’t give up and tried to battle back in the second half.
The Dragons scored the first five points of the third quarter, and Jamale Barber split a pair of free throws to cut their deficit to 37-22 at the 6:25 mark. However, a Stewart three – followed by another basket by the guard and a Moreno bucket – put Scott County up 46-22 with 3:59 left in the period.
Cousin’s triple with under a minute remaining in the third brought Warren Central to within 49-33 entering the fourth.
The Dragons continued to fight over the course of the final eight minutes but couldn’t come all the way back, as their remarkable season came to an end.
“These kids didn’t think they would be here,” said Unseld. “I saw it in them early, they followed the game plan and all the credit goes to them. We’ve pushed them – and they’ve allowed us to push them. They allowed me to push them and work them. They get all the credit. I’m proud of them, man.”–Senior writer Tyler Mansfield can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TMansfieldST.–