MOREHEAD--Ashland coach Buddy Biggs was caught in a rare mood heading into the fourth quarter Friday night.
“I wanted to go conservative, but my assistant coaches (Chris Whitlock, Jeff Wilcox and Mike Polley) wanted to keep the pedal to the metal,” Biggs said. “Our philosophy (going in) was to do what we do for 32 minutes and see what happens.”
Biggs succumbed to the suggestion and the Tomcats stayed true to their style. They closed the game out on a 32-11 run to earn a 75-54 win over Fleming County in the 16th Region Tournament quarterfinals at Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
Ashland advances to the semifinals, where it will take on East Carter tonight at 8:15.
With Friday’s game tied at 43 apiece, Corey Gregg grabbed one of his game-high 14 rebounds, threw an outlet pass to a wide-open Cody Withrow, and Withrow promptly gave Ashland a lead it never ceased.
“That kind of broke the ice right there,” Biggs said.
And if there was any ice left, Delaney melted it away with the touch of his red-hot shooting hand. The junior guard found his stroke for 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 5-for-9 from behind the 3-point arc.
Delaney scored seven points during the dominant fourth quarter.
Asked what the difference was in the final period, Fleming County coach Brian Kelly responded, “a young man named Dylan Delaney.”
“My teammates found me all night,” Delaney said. “If we share the ball we’re just as good as any team in the region.”
Delaney began his surge in the third quarter, burying three 3-pointers to help the Tomcats claw back from a 37-32 deficit.
“We need him to shoot like that two more times,” Biggs said.
“Three three’s within (three and a half minutes) -- it’s going to put pressure on you,” Kelly said.
Ashland used constant pressure and an unexpected rebounding edge to break away from a neck-and-neck battle. The Tomcats outrebounded the Panthers 42-29, which included 18 offensive boards.
“We’ve not been plus-13 all season,” Biggs said.
Kelly said allowing Ashland to bang the offensive glass was more of a factor than its depth.
“We wanted them to go one-and-done. It didn’t happen,” Kelly said. “It seemed like if their boys couldn’t stick it back, they would kick it out and, boom, hit a three.”
Ashland shot 53.1 percent in the second half, and had seven more shots at the basket than Fleming County in the span.
Chris Johnson added 15 points for the Tomcats on 6-of-7 shooting off the bench. Ryan Whetsel chipped in 11 and Cody Withrow had 10. Will Skaggs dished nine assists.
Fleming County’s Josh Gray led the Panthers (15-13) with 19 points, including two 3-pointers to spark an 8-3 spurt to start the game. The Panthers led by as many as six.
“We had an experienced group in terms of seniors, but we had rookie seniors. They didn’t have much experience at this stage,” Kelly said.
It was the first trip Fleming County had made to the regional tournament since joining the 16th Region in 2005.
Ashland (22-6) will play in the semifinals for the fourth straight season, dating back to Biggs’ first year.
The semifinal matchup with East Carter tonight could come down to tempo.
“We can’t let (Colt) Barnhill establish an inside game early,” Johnson said. “We have to press our style of play on them.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.