Host Waggener overcame the injury bug and a St. Xavier comeback thanks to Isiah Knight in a 53-49 victory on Tuesday night.
After seeing an 11-point second half lead vanish, the Wildcats made a comeback of their own. They finished with a 12-4 run over the last 2:57 that was keyed by two big three-point plays that came off offensive rebounds.
Knight’s putback-and-one with 1:46 left gave Waggener, the No. 8 team in The Courier-Journal’s preseason coaches’ poll, the lead, 49-47, for good with 1:46 left. It’s just Knight’s third game back – and his first full game – after a stress fracture in his foot forced him to miss the first two games. But his return to full-time came as the Wildcats were without starting point guard Jacquess Hobbs.
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“We just haven’t gotten everyone together,” O’Neill said. “So we’re just finding a way.”
The way to a victory Tuesday came off the offensive glass. Down by four with under three minutes to go, Kevin Kirby’s three-point play off a missed shot sparked the Wildcats rally. He finished with 15 point and eight rebounds.
St. X coach Kevin Klein called those rebounds a “big momentum shifter.”
Knight added 14, and Jaalam Hill finished with 13 points and eight boards. Those three made 17 of their 24 shots, while the rest of the team made just 4-of-21.
“We just showed that we just stuck together, worked hard together and didn’t give up,” said Kirby, a 6-6 senior forward. “We continued to fight.”
St. X also came into the game at less than 100 percent. The Tigers played without senior post players Austin Brian and Daniel Ryan. Without the 6-5 Brian, who’s nursing a shoulder injury, and 6-6 Ryan, who has a sprained hand, the Tigers (3-2) could not keep the Wildcats off the boards in the final moments.
“If we get those rebounds, we win the game,” senior forward William Olsen said about the two three-point plays.
Waggener pulled ahead midway through the second quarter, using a 9-0 run to build a 27-18 lead late in the first half. They would lead 33-22 with 5:17 left in the third after a Hill layup, but the Wildcats made just two more baskets that quarter as the Tigers doubled on Kirby and forced five turnovers that period.
Olsen, who had 12 points, gave the Tigers their first lead of the game on a three-pointer with 4:52 remaining. Connor McKim led the Tigers with 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting.