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Its arduous early season schedule behind it, the Shelby County boys’ basketball team is starting the new year on a roll.
The Rockets, who lost their first eight games of the season, won their second and third in a row this past weekend, beating host Grant County, 61-40, on Friday night, then topping Louisville Collegiate, 64-49, Saturday night at Mike Casey Gymnasium.
“We’re definitely going in the right direction,” said Shelby County Coach Jason Couch, whose team is 4-10.
Shelby County 61, Grant County 40
The Rockets routed the host Braves, 32-16, in the second half after leading by five at intermission on their way to a 21-point triumph in Dry Ridge.
Sophomore point guard Malik Manica led a balanced scoring attack with 12 points. Manica was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, where the Rockets hit 16 of 20 (80 percent) shots.
Junior guard Kyler Dugle added 11 points (nine in the second half), and senior guard Kipp Moore chipped in with nine (seven in the first half). SCHS hit 21 of 48 from the field (43.4 percent).
No player scored in double digits for Grant County (4-7).
Shelby County 64, Louisville Collegiate 49
The Rockets avenged last season’s 87-66 loss thanks to a fabulous finish to the third quarter.
Collegiate, which trailed, 32-23, at halftime, had cut Shelby County’s lead to five late in the third period when Couch called a timeout.
On the Rockets' ensuing possession, junior forward Keenan Cochran hit a free-throw-line jumper that hung on the rim for a second before dropping into the basket with 1:19 to play in the quarter. That started a 10-0 run by the Rockets.
Shelby County forced a turnover on Collegiate’s ensuing possession before sophomore forward James Gordon dished inside to Cochran for a basket.
Manica stole the subsequent inbounds pass, hit a layup and was fouled, sending him into a heels-over-head backwards somersault.
“We need Malik to get us started defensively, and that’s what he did late in that third quarter,” said Couch, who added that his team played “with a little more urgency,” in that key stretch.
Manica missed the ensuing free throw, but the Rockets rebounded it, and Cochran hit a jumper with 7 seconds left in the period to boost Shelby’s lead to 52-39.
Cochran kept things going, putting in another on a high-low pass from Gordon 10 seconds into the fourth period to give the Rockets a 15-point bulge (54-39). They rolled from there.
“That got us going,” Dugle said. “I think we got a lot of energy from that and took it on to the rest of the game, that was big.”
Cochran finished with a team-high 13 points off the bench to lead another balanced attack for Shelby County, which had five players with eight points or more.
“At the beginning of the year we were going one-on-one a lot. Now we’re sharing the ball more,” said Dugle, who added 11 points for the third consecutive game.
Moore, meanwhile, contributed 10 points, junior wing Jacob Gowin added nine, before leaving with a shoulder injury in the second half, and Gordon tallied eight for the Rockets, who shot 53.1 percent (26-for-49) from the field. They were just 9 of 17 (52.9 percent) from the free-throw line, though.
Shelby County, which has lost to 10 teams with a combined record of 88-38, next hosts 30th District-rival Anderson County at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“We’ve played a tough schedule, but we’re playing a lot better now, and we’re getting better,” Dugle said.