For The Independent
WEST LIBERTY —
Some of the Morgan County boys basketball team planned to travel to a Morehead restaurant for a Saturday night snack.
If they made it, they should have celebrated mightily. The Cougars survived two 10-point deficits to knock off visiting Rowan County, 56-53.
It wasn't known whether Samuel Aguirre, Jordan Perry and Jordan Whitt were among the celebrants, but the Cougars should have lifted a soft drink in praise. Whitt and Perry scored 16 points apiece to lead their team, and Aguirre added 11, including two free throws with 16.7 seconds remaining.
Perry didn't know several seniors had painted black mustaches in an impromptu “Matthew Perry Night” takeoff on his dad's — the head coach — gray-and-black-haired upper lip. However, he knew instantly why the Cougars won.
“Playing hard, knocking down shots,” the younger Perry said.
There's another reason why Saturday's win may have been sweeter: the Cougars could forget about a 78-76 Friday loss to Lawrence County when the Bulldogs' Austin Chaffin drained a buzzer-beater.
“We had to play all-out and value the ball and just be tough,” Whitt said. “... When we (were) down 10, we knew we had to battle that much harder. When we battled that much harder, we knew we could get back in it, and sure enough we did.”
Last night, not only did Morgan County (18-6) overcome a 14-4 Viking lead and a 17-7 deficit, the Cougars survived Jalen Stone's 19 points and Tyler Thacker's 14.
At times in the first quarter, it seemed Rowan County had a single play — get the ball to Stone for a 3-pointer on the left side. It was a matter of not fixing what was working: in less than three minutes Stone hit one from the left corner and two from the left of the free-throw line extended.
“I told them (Trevor) Newsome and Stone were going to shoot it relentlessly,” Matthew Perry said. “They're not going to stop shooting; they're going to move the ball until they get it.”
And Morgan County? Not so much early — an Alexsander Malinic free throw was the Cougars' only point for nearly four minutes.
Stone finished the quarter with 12 points, and he had help: a Newsome steal and 15-foot jumper and Tyler Thacker's 8-foot floater and free throw.
The Cougars — or more correctly Jordan Perry — heated up; his two threes, a Malinic reverse layup and a scoop 8-foot runner past Stone pulled his team to within 17-14 after a quarter.
When Rowan County (14-12) tried a box-and-1 zone defense hoping to contain Perry, it was utterly unsuccessful because he scored four points less than 90 seconds in the second quarter. For a while, that didn't hurt the Vikings much because Thacker's bucket over Malinic and free throw gave them a 30-23 lead.
But there were problems on the horizon.
Thacker committed two turnovers, which Whitt converted into four points to pull Morgan County to within 32-30 early in the third quarter.
Rowan County's biggest problem involved its biggest players. Forward Josh Barnard fouled out with 3:21 left in the game, and center Matt Brown joined him a little more than three minutes later.
“It's hard every night when they don't get to play,” Rowan County coach Shawn Thacker said. “It make things kind of difficult when both kids stay in foul trouble.”
With the Vikings' much shorter lineup, it was advantage, Morgan County, because of four plays: Malinic's layup put the Cougars up, 45-44; Aguirre's fast-break bucket; Perry on a layup; and Aguirre's tip-in.
It also didn't help Rowan County to have just one field goal over the final 2:24. Aguirre's two free throws with 16.7 seconds left secured the win.
ROWAN CO. 17 15 8 13 — 53
MORGAN CO. 14 12 9 21 — 56
Rowan Co. (53): Stone 19, Newsome 5, Thacker 14, Brown 6, Callahan 5, Barnard 4.
Morgan Co.: (56): Aguirre 13, Whitt 16, Perry 16, Malinic 11.
Free throws: RC 6-8; MC 15-23. Three-pointers: RC 7 (Stone 5, Newsome, Callahan); MC 3 (Perry 2, Aguirre).