Written by Greg Bird
Friday, 12 March 2010
“Our strength became our weakness.”
“Our strength became our weakness.”
That’s how McCreary Central Coach Robert Jones summed up the Raiders’ disappointing 62-52 loss to the Mercer County Titans Thursday night in the opening round of the 12th Region Tournament.
The Raiders suffered through an uncharacteristic poor shooting performance, hitting only 1 of 17 three-point attempts, well off their season-average 44 percent.
“If the ball doesn’t go into the basket, you don’t have an opportunity to win,” Jones said. “All it takes is one off night, and it’s over. But that’s what makes Kentucky Basketball so special. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
McCreary Central, favorites to win the tournament and advance to their first State Tournament since 1983, faced the only 12th Region opponent that had beaten them in the Regular season, and the game certainly mirrored their season-opening loss.
Just like on December 1st, the Raiders saw an early lead disappear, only to rally back and take a lead. But, history repeated itself and McCreary failed to hold on to their advantage and their season was bookended with a pair of Mercer County wins.
Twice the Raiders erased deficits of 8-points or more in the game, rallying to regain the lead, but the Titans always managed to grab control and end the Raider comeback.
“They got the momentum away from us, but we fought back twice and took the lead,” Jones said. “We just couldn’t finish it off.”
“We had a special group of seniors that have done a lot for McCreary Central Basketball, winning two District Championships, and everybody had a dream of going to Rupp Arena. I hate it for them; they are great kids. And I am grateful to the fans for all they did for us; we had great community support up there, I just wish we could have given them a win.”
It wasn’t only missed shots that cost McCreary the game, the Raiders also had issues protecting the ball as well, 14 turnovers led to several Mercer County baskets.
In particular, two turnovers late in the game put an end to a Raider rally and gave the Titans all the momentum they needed to close out the win and put an end to McCreary’s dreams.
The Raiders’ biggest charge came in the third quarter when McCreary erased a 10-point Mercer lead, closing out the period with a 12-0 run to take a 36-34 lead at the end of the quarter.
The Titans responded with a 6-point run to open the fourth quarter and it seemed as if the game would go down to the wire.
The Raiders were within four points of tying the game with 3:32 remaining when Mercer’s Kasey McRay stripped the ball from Aaron Watts at the top of the key. McRay finished off the play with a basket for a 48-42 lead. On the Raiders’ next trip up the floor, McRay came up with another steal and basket to open up an 8-point advantage.
The raucous Raider fans that had packed the Pulaski County High School Gym were silenced after the play seeing their team’s chances of advancing slipping away.
The Raiders continued to try and fight back, fouling Mercer County in an attempt to preserve time, but the tactic did little good. Mercer hit 10 of 17 free throws down the stretch, while McCreary missed several shots to cut down the lead.
Aaron Watts knocked down the Raiders first and only three-pointer of the game with 1:31 left, but it came too late to have any effect.
After the final buzzer sounded, several McCreary players dropped to the floor in disbelief, upset at seeing their season-long dream of a Regional Title vanish.
Aaron Watts led the Raiders with 18 points, followed by Zack Roark with 17, the only two McCreary players to finish in double figures. Tyson Williams finished with 6, Tyler Perry with 4, Jacob Dixon with 3, Ben Wright with 2 and Sean Privett with 2.
McCreary ended the season with a record of 24-7.
Mercer County lost to the West Jessamine Jaguars Tuesday night in the 12th Region Championship game.