For The Independent
It was one of Shawn Thacker's calmer halftime speeches.
Whatever Rowan County's boys basketball coach said Monday was also one of his more effective encomiums because of what the Vikings did to Boyd County — a 76-63 win behind senior guard Jalen Stone's 25 points.
“I've been a lot more animated all year,” Thacker said. “The last few days … my players will probably tell you it's about the calmest I've been. Instead of talking about effort, talking about mental concentration, talking about those kinds of things, now we're getting to talk about the Xs and Os and adjustments, those kinds of things.
As serene as Thacker said his talk was, Stone remembered a plea for the antonym.
“Coach just told us to come out there with intensity because this is a big statement game for us,” Stone said. “It proves that we're contenders for a (16th) regional title, that we've got to play within ourselves.”
The obvious reasons Rowan County won was outscoring the Lions, 40-27, in the second half — a spree that featured a 29-10 run over the third and opening two minutes of the fourth quarters. Boyd County coach Randy Anderson said the Vikings' “know their house” — remembering how the ball caroms off the glass, knowing how tight the rims were when it was time to shoot a banks shot.
“They caught fire, and they shot the ball extremely well,” Anderson said.
Thacker noticed something else the longer he spoke after the game: he mentioned other contributions. And there were many besides Stone: 6-foot-11 senior center Matt Brown's 10 points and his blocks and alteration of numerous Boyd County shots; sophomore guard Justin Graham's five assists in the run; senior guard Trevor Newsome's 14 points; and the four 3-pointers apiece from Stone and Newsome.
Thacker's hope? That future foes will realize that others can score, rebound and play defense when his son, leading scorer Tyler Thacker, is having an off night.
Monday's first half featured more peaks and valleys than a stock market graph — neither team led by more than four, there were nine ties and nine lead changes, and it was a 36-36 tie at intermission.
There were multiple Viking contributors, too.
Stone and Tyler Thacker were the early threats: Thacker had five points and two assists in the first quarter, while Stone scored 11 points, including the Vikings' last eight over the final 2:14 of the half.
Austin Hunt provided much of Boyd County's first-half scoring — 12 points, including a 3-pointer.
A 7-0 run over the final 1:11 over the first quarter gave the Lions (10-9) their biggest lead of the night at 21-17 — and advantage that lasted just four minutes thanks to two points each from Ryne Callahan, Newsome and Graham.
Hunt led the Lions with 25 points, but more than that, he provided an inside presence when Brandon Lowe went down with a left knee injury with 3:37 left in the second quarter.
Stone was the entire Rowan County (11-7) offense late in the second because he scored the Vikings' last eight points over the final 2:14. It wasn't quite enough — Todd Stacy's two free throws and a Jesse Wallace steal and layup with three seconds to go produced the tie.
It also didn't help Boyd County to not score a point for nearly five minutes — between Hunt's two free throws with 2:01 left in the third and a Tristan Burgess (14 points) 3-pointer with 5:35 to go in the game: Newsome drained a three among his five points, Callahan scored four, Stone added two and Graham served three assists.
Thacker hopes his team showed something else: that the two straight regional titles are history.
“We're going to be a good basketball team,” he said. “We're not going to rest on our laurels, we're not going to set back and say the last couple years have been great, now it's somebody else's turn. We're nowhere near where we need to be to compete to win a region, but I feel like we're closing the gap.”
BOYD CO. 21 15 10 17 — 63
ROWAN CO. 17 19 20 20 — 76
Boyd Co. (63): Hunt 25, Wallace 5, Taylor 2, Griffith 4, Lowe 6, Stacy 5, Anderson 2, Burgess 14
Rowan Co. (76): Stone 25, Newsome 14, Thacker 9, Brown 10, Barnard 9, Graham 5, Callahan 7, Lee 2.
Free throws: BC 11-17; RC 18-21. Three-pointers: BC 10 (Burgess 4, Hunt 4, Stacy 2); RC 10 (Stone 4, Newsome 4, Thacker, Callahan).