Lincoln County guards to provide first test

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By Todd Martin

When the Shelby County boys' basketball team opens Sweet 16 play in Rupp Arena Thursday against Lincoln County at 1:30 p.m. the game may have a familiar look.

The opponent's jerseys and court will be different, but the Patriots play a style very similar to South Oldham, a team the Rockets beat three times this year.

Like South Oldham, Lincoln County shoots the three, they shoot it often and they are successful doing it.

Lincoln County has shot 657 three-point shots, making 217 (33 percent).

"To put it in context, we've shot 391, and we have three point shooters," SCHS head coach Mike Clark said. "Lincoln County has been very successful this year, winning 27 ball games, but we've faced several perimeter oriented teams. In our last two games, South Oldham and Gallatin County, we faced perimeter-oriented teams with good guards. This should be a very competitive ball game."

The Patriots will try to dictate tempo with a three-quarter 2-2-1 press and a full court man-to-man press. Clark said his team can't get too focused on run-and-gun, but instead just make the right decisions.

"We need to make sure that one, we don't turn the ball over against their aggressive defense, and two, that we take good shots," he said. "If a good shot presents itself just one or two passes into the offense, we want to exploit their aggressive defense, but if it's not there, we need to hold off and run our offense. We don't talk about running or not, but instead about decision making and handling their pressure."

The bulk of Lincoln County's 68.5 points per game comes from four players. Ryan Young (18.4), Noah Keeton (17.4) and Daniel Ralston (9.6) have all scored more than 1,000 points in their careers, and Ethan Spurlin (15 points and 8.9 rebounds) provides the inside punch.

"Young is a four-year starter at point guard and the other three can put up big numbers any night," Clark said. "They're a pretty balanced team."

The Rockets, however, should hold the advantage in the post. Lincoln County's four-guard line-up should mean that Alex Matthews and Alex Shehan will have guards trying to defend them in the low post. And Coty Minnis will likely have Spurlin on him, providing the Rockets a chance to get the Patriots' one low-post threat in foul trouble.

The Rockets should also have an advantage off the bench.

Lincoln County goes only about seven deep, and their top two reserves average a combined six points and six rebounds.

Shelby County goes just one more deep, running an eight-man rotation, but Donovan Johnson's eight points and five rebounds, Nigel Beach, three and three, and Boomer Beckley, five and one, should give Shelby an advantage. Not to mention that all three of the Rockets' top reserves play valuable minutes throughout the game.

The Rockets' offensive balance could also cause problems for Lincoln County. While only two Rockets' average double figures (Minnis at 16.8 points and Tim Sanford at 12.6), Shelby County has had seven of its top eight go for double figures this season, including five that have scored 20 points or more.

"Coty anchors our post offense, and I'm a firm believer in not changing overnight for one opponent," Clark said. "We're going to feed Coty in the post, we need Tim to hit some outside shots, and we need Alex Matthews to play his normal inside/outside game. I expect our bench to step up as it has all season, and I think our guys are ready."

Sophomore point guards Cache Tomlinson and Boomer Beckley will likely draw the difficult task of slowing down Lincoln County's Ryan Young. But Clark knows the entire Rocket defense will have to figure into the outcome.

"The most interesting stat to me is that we give up about 53 points a game, and they score about 70 points per game so something has to give," he said. "We have to slow them down with our defense, and we can't allow good shots early in the offense."

While Lincoln County was in the Sweet 16 last year (losing 51-41 in the first round to Adair County), the Rockets also have some experience.

"All of our seniors dressed on the 2006 team, and having done this they know what it takes to win and prepare for state," Clark said. "We're a senior, battle-tested team as well."