Short-handed Fairview came through with an inspired performance Tuesday night.
And nearly a road upset of district rival Ashland.
In the end, the Tomcats held on for a 62-61 victory in the racehorse contest at Anderson Gym.
Ashland broke the Eagles’ press for a Dikembe Dixson layup and three-point lead with 30 seconds remaining.
In the scrambling sequence that followed, Fairview missed a couple of 3-point shots but came up with the rebound both times. The second ended in the hands of Andrew Carroll, who only had time to let fly with an on-target 15-footer at the buzzer.
“You’ve got to give credit to Fairview,” said Ashland coach Buddy Biggs. “Every time we tried to stretch out the lead, they came back. They fought us tooth and nail all the way down to the wire.”
Fairview, playing without top scorer Devon Turner and post player Cody McPeek, led by three with under six minutes remaining before the Tomcats went on an 11-0 run.
The Eagles refused to buckle, however. Junior guard Ryan Jones scored seven consecutive points, including a 3-pointer, to slice Ashland’s lead to 60-59 with 41 seconds left.
“Obviously, we caught Fairview at a time when they could do one of two things .... rally or go into the tank,” Biggs said. “If they play like they did tonight, they will win a lot of ball games.”
The Eagles’ gritty effort left coach Derek Cooksey well pleased.
“Coming into this gym can be intimidating, especially for an inexperienced team like ours,” Cooksey said. “But the kids responded. This team has improved as much as any group I’ve had.”
Ashland prevailed to snap a three-game losing streak, thanks in large part to a big night from Dixson. The 6-foot-6 sophomore dropped in 23 points and also snagged 13 rebounds — one shy of his season high.
Dixson took advantage of his height advantage and maneuvered well around the basket in shooting 9-for-15 from the field.
“Dikembe ran the floor and did a great job on the glass,” Biggs said. “He’s played some really good basketball, especially the last three or four games.”
Four of Dixson’s baskets came down the stretch to help the Tomcats come out on top. Overall, he appreciated the nice feeds from his teammates on a night when Ashland racked up 15 assists on 20 field goals.
“I guess they thought I could score,” Dixson said with a smile. “I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
Dixson said he is feeling more comfortable all the time in his first season with the Tomcats.
“They treat me well and all of that,” he said. “I got really tired tonight. I’ve got to get in better shape.”
Guard-heavy Fairview pushed the pace as much as Ashland. The score was tied 11 times, the last at 52 when Zach Hart drilled a 3-pointer to ignite the Tomcats’ pivotal surge.
“We basically went small most of the game,” Biggs said. “Fairview started essentially four guards and a forward.”
Despite the fast tempo, Ashland finished with a season-low nine turnovers.
“That was definitely a positive, along with the assist total,” said Biggs, whose team was without senior guard Logan Salow due to concussion symptoms from a Saturday injury at Ironton. “We missed Logan, especially in a game like this when the other team goes perimeter-heavy.”
Hart scored 13 points and Nick Miller added 11 as the Tomcats improved to 10-5.
Sophomore Isaiah King led Fairview with 19 points. Jones scored 14 for the Eagles (8-7).
“They came in doing their best, and maybe outhustled us,” Dixson said.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.