SHELBYVILLE — The Collins High School boys’ basketball team didn’t exactly end the regular season on a roll. The Titans lost eight of their last 12 games heading into the 30th District Tournament.
Collins, however, caught fire in the postseason, finishing as district runner-up, then winning the Eighth Region Tournament to earn its second trip to the Sweet 16 in three years.
“It was challenging,” Titans coach Chris Gaither said.
Collins’ next challenge will be Elliott County (26-3). The Titans (23-12) face the 16th Region champs at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
“Hopefully we can make some noise in Rupp,” senior forward Dominique Turner said shortly after hitting two free throws with five seconds left to lift Collins to a 54-53 win over Anderson County in the region final.
The Titans made plenty of noise at the start of the season, winning 15 of their first 18 games. But then came Collins’ slide, which coincided with injuries to Turner, junior guard Jacob Feltner and junior wing Nick Fort.
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The Titans’ struggles began with a pair of lopsided losses – a 27-point defeat at Eastern on Jan. 17, followed by a 24-point setback at Oldham County three days later.
Narrow defeats at Woodford County and Male came late in January before the Titans closed out the regular season with four straight defeats to DeSales, St. Xavier, North Oldham and Christian Academy of Louisville.
“We went through the whole month of January, we were out three starters with injuries,” Gaither said. “But we had kids step up.”
Included among those were a pair of freshmen – Dayvion McKnight and Marcellus Vail. McKnight’s emergence, as well as his insertion into the starting lineup, has been key for Collins.
“He’s great, he’s going to be one of the best players in the region,” said senior postman Charlie Cochran, who leads the Titans in scoring and rebounding.
Collins started the postseason with a narrow win over archrival Shelby County in the 30th District Tournament semifinals before losing to Anderson County in the district final, a game in which the Titans shot just 29.4 percent from the field.
“When we got everybody back, our chemistry was affected, so it took us a while to get a little bit of flow,” Gaither said. “But we got it at the right time, I guess.”
That time was the Eighth Region Tournament. Collins began it by beating Oldham County 62-59 – a 27-point turnaround from mid-January – in the first round behind a huge game (24 points, 14 rebounds) from Turner. The Titans followed that up with a 48-44 win over Gallatin County before avenging its district-final loss to the Bearcats in the title tilt.
“Everybody’s been on board and focusing and really buying into what we had planned all season long – ‘Operation Eighth’ – and just win that regional championship, and we did,” Turner said.
Collectively Collins hopes to carry that momentum, and continue its recent resurgence, this week at Rupp Arena.