By DOUG EADS
LOUISVILLE — Campbellsville-Somerset University head basketball coach Al Gover has been very pleased with the marked improvement he has seen from his young Tiger basketball team over the past couple of weeks.
And on Thursday night, the Tigers head coach began to see his team growing up in front of his very eyes.
Playing at Boyle College, CU-Somerset displayed the toughness, grit, and maturity Gover has told his club it needed to have to be able to compete at the collegiate level.
Leading the Bulldogs by only three points at halftime –42-39 — CU-Somerset began the second half with a 14-1 run to take complete control of the game, earning its fifth win of the season.
Titus Ransom and Keelan Kennedy led the way for the Tigers by scoring 21 points each, and AJ Thomas added 18 points, helping CU-Somerset to an 86-76 victory — the Tigers second win this season over a college basketball program.
“At halftime, we talked to our guys about coming out strong in the second half, and getting the ball into the paint, because our three’s were just not falling tonight,” pointed out a very happy coach Gover after the contest.
“Our guys came out in the second half and we picked up our defensive intensity,” Gover added. “We picked up some steals, and we got some finishes at the rim, and we got some free throws to help us get out to the big lead.”
Kennedy gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead on the first possession of the game, thanks to his long-range bomb from deep.
Ironically, that would be the only three-point basket the Tigers would hit in the first half.
CU-Somerset — normally a pretty good three-point shooting team — couldn’t buy a trey after Kennedy’s three-pointer to begin the game.
The Tigers were an abysmal, 1-18 from downtown in the opening half of play for an ice-cold 5.5 percent, and that enabled the homestanding Bulldogs stay close.
Bailey Benham scored 13 of his team-high 18 points in the opening half, and with the Tigers having an off night from downtown, the Bulldogs only trailed the Tigers by three at halftime by that 42-39 score.
Coming out of the locker room at the intermission, things were much, much different for both clubs.
The Tigers began the second frame with a 14-1 run, taking a very comfortable, 56-40 lead with less than four minutes gone by in the half.
And, it was Ransom, Kennedy, and Thomas that sparked the run.
Ransom and Josiah Williams each converted three-point plays during the rally, while Kennedy hit another long-range three-pointer. Thomas meanwhile, racked up a pair of steals that led to easy layups.
For the game, Kennedy hit the only three’s the Tigers would make in this affair, with two treys.
For the game, CU-Somerset made 2-23 from downtown, but on this particular night, that didn’t matter. Gover’s young club found a way to win on the road, and in an hostile environment, on a night when the shots –from long range at least — were simply not falling.
“I was really, really proud of our effort tonight, because I thought we played really hard,” pointed out Gover.
“I thought we played together, and played together maybe as good as we have played together all year,” stated the CU-Somerset coach. “Earlier in the year, if we’re not shooting the ball well, we weren’t defending well either, and this is a game that we would have probably lost due to that very fact. Tonight, it was the opposite — we weren’t shooting it very well — but we defended and got after it.”
After that 14-1 spurt to begin the second half extended the lead out in the Tigers favor to 56-40, CU-Somerset methodically built its lead up in the second half to as much as 22 points, before Gover emptied his bench with just over six minutes left in the contest, and the Bulldogs would then rally to cut the deficit down to nine points, but could get no closer.
CU-Somerset — as Gover pointed out — did a great job defensively, forcing the Bulldogs into 23 turnovers in the contest, outscoring them on points off of turnovers by a 28-10 margin. That was the difference in this game.
It was Thomas that was a big-time catalyst at the defensive end for Gover and the Tigers. The freshman point guard — along with his 18 points — led the Tigers with five steals in the game, and was a vital part of the knockout punch thrown and landed by CU-Somerset in the early moments of the second half.
“AJ is a very good defender, and that’s why he’s on the floor,” remarked Gover.
“He can pretty much lock down people at times, and he’s just really, really good with his hands,” added the Tigers coach. “He comes up with a lot of steals, and he came up big tonight for sure.”
The Tigers — 5-16 on the season with Thursday night’s win– will return to action next Tuesday night, February 12th at home, hosting Huntington Prep Academy.
That game from Somerset Christian School is set to get underway at 7 p.m.