After seeing an early lead evaporate after a run, Fern Creek used one itself to pull away from host South Oldham, beating the host Dragons 80-67 to claim the Mitchell F. Irvin Classic Thursday night.
The Tigers, the No. 8 team in The Courier-Journal’s preseason coaches’ poll, started the second half with a 14-2 run to take control of the game. The decisive run started with a Tony Rogers 3-pointer and ended with one from Ahmad Price to give Fern Creek a 49-39 lead with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers’ comeback started, according to Price, when the players started to listen to their coaches, but only after the Dragons put on a 21-4 run to take a 32-25 lead midway through the second quarter.
“It shows we have matured into a veteran squad,” said the junior forward, who finished with 13 points.
Anthony Wales, another junior, led the Tigers (12-1) with 21 points, one of five Fern Creek players to score in double figures.
In the first half, the Dragons (13-1) used its 2-3 zone to frustrate the Tigers, holding them to just one basket in a 3:59 span. South Oldham, which only hit two of its first nine 3-pointers, hit four during its run.
But the Dragons lost some steam in the second half, going just 2 of 11 the rest of the way. However, it wasn’t just stopping the 3-pointer that allowed Fern Creek to rally. The Tigers dished out 15 assists in the second half, and after being outrebounded 17-13 in the first half, Fern Creek ended up winning the battle of the boards, 36-28.
“The coaches preached to us in the locker room during halftime that we had to rebound,” Wales said. “So, that’s what we did to pull out the victory.”
Fern Creek dominated the second half, leading by as many as 21 points with 2:08 left in the game.
Jo Griffin led the Dragons with 28 points, and Devin Young added 21.
For the Tigers, Thursday’s performance was just the latest in a long line of impressive victories to start the season. Fern Creek already owns victories over No. 2 Trinity, No. 6 Ballard, No. 7 Doss, No. 11 Doss and No. 22 Franklin-Simpson, and only a three-point loss in a rematch with Trinity in the King of the Bluegrass quarterfinals kept the Tigers from going undefeated during the holiday break. While South Oldham was not ranked in the preseason poll, the defending Eighth Region champs were one of just five unbeaten teams in Kentucky and the last one in the Louisville area.
Coach James Schooler said his team’s commitment to working on the little things everyday has led to the Tigers’ tremendous start. Now, as the players gain maturity and confidence, Schooler is also upping the ante.
“We’re expecting high expectations out of these guys,” he said.
The Tigers’ road will not get any easier before the start of the Louisville Invitational Tournament next month. Once school resumes, Fern Creek will host Sixth Region upstart Butler on Tuesday and then No. 25 Bullitt East on Jan. 6. The day after they play their district rival Chargers, the Tigers will play No. 9 Hopkinsville in the First Security New Year’s Bash in Muhlenberg County.
South Oldham returned just two starters from last year’s Eighth Region championship squad, but these Dragons already made a name for themselves by jumping out to the best start in the school’s history. Prior to Thursday night’s final, 11 of South’s first 13 victories were by 10 points or more.
“Fern Creek was a great test for us,” Dragons coach Steve Simpson said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to see where we’re at, see things we need to work on and try to get better from there.