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Titans put a ‘D’ in victory

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4th-quarter crackdown overpowers Rockets

By Josh Cook

Collins boys’ basketball coach Chris Gaither has been critical of his squad’s defense recently.

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“We’re a good team right now, but one of the things hindering us from being a great team is our defense,” he said Friday night. And that was after his Titans beat crosstown rival Shelby County for the second time this season, 79-57, at Mike Casey Gymnasium.

Gaither, however, was fairly happy with the way his team got down and guarded in the final period.

“We played a little bit better defense in the fourth quarter,” Gaither said.

Collins, which led, 54-44, at the end of the third period, outscored the Rockets, 25-13, in the final 8 minutes.

“In the fourth quarter we just didn’t have very good possessions,” first-year Shelby County Coach Jason Couch said. “On offense we had a couple of bad shots, had a couple of offensive fouls and a couple of turnovers.”

The Titans (10-5) had something to do with some of that. Eleven of the 20 turnovers they forced came in the second half.

“I think it was good [defense],” senior guard Buddy Johnson said. “He [Gaither] told us to just get down and play good, solid defense.”

Johnson provided plenty of offense for Collins, too. He scored 24 points (15 in the first half), and junior forward Ralphie Stone added 21 points and 10 rebounds in reserve as the Titans rebounded from back-to-back losses to Anderson County and Trinity.

Collins had defeated Shelby County by 23 points (68-45) back on Dec. 14 in the game that counted toward the 30th District standings. In that meeting the Titans led, 29-18, at halftime before outscoring the Rockets, 25-13, in the third quarter.

This time around Collins led, 33-24, at intermission.

It was tied 6-all early in the game before the Titans reeled off nine points in a row. Johnson scored on a drive, then hit a 3-pointer from the corner before Dez Marshall scored on a rebound and assisted Stone for a layup. A basket by Michael Barry, who tallied a team-high 20 points for the Rockets, ended Collins’ spurt.

Shelby County sophomore Keenan Cochran hit a 3-pointer to start the second quarter, trimming the Titans’ lead to 15-11, but Stone scored in the lane and followed that with a pair of free throws.

The Rockets (5-11) rallied, cutting Collins’ lead to 22-19 on Malik Manica’s layup with 4:13 to play in the half, but the Titans scored 11 of the next 15 points, five by Johnson, four by Marshall and two by Stone in between a pair of baskets by Shelby freshman forward James Gordon.

Johnson’s third 3-pointer of the half – “It seemed like he hit everything in the first half,” Couch said –  and a layin gave Collins a 10-point (33-23) lead.

Gordon hit one of two free throws to trim that lead to nine just before halftime.

The Titans shot 50 percent (13 of 26) in the first half – Johnson was 6-of-10, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range. Meanwhile Shelby County shot 37 percent (10 of 27).

Gaither, however, was so disappointed with his team’s defense that he shook up his starting lineup in the second half. Stone and Lawson Page, in his first game action since that Dec. 14 meeting because of a broken hand, began the third quarter with Johnson, Marshall and Brent Kidwell.

“I had to try to find five guys who wanted to play defense,” Gaither said.

Stone and Barry traded baskets to start the second half before Johnson netted another 3-pointer, boosting Collins’ lead to 38-26.

The Rockets rallied to cut Collins’ lead to six late in the third.

“I’m so proud of our kids, because we fought right back,” Couch said.

But the Titans’ offense got a kick-start from Kidwell, their sophomore point guard, late in the period. He scored Collins’ last nine points of the quarter, including a jumper with 30 seconds to play to give the Titans their 54-44 lead.

“That little flurry kind of hurt us,” Couch said.

Barry’s turnaround 10 seconds into the fourth quarter cut Collins’ lead to 54-46, but that was as close as Shelby County would get.

Stone and Marshall hit three of four free throws, then Stone scored inside for a 13-point lead. After a basket by Kipp Moore, Collins took command with a 16-3 surge.

“There was that stretch there where I felt like we were stuck on fifty forever,” Couch said.

Shelby County shot 48 percent (24-for-50), including 60.9 percent (14-of-23) in the second half. In addition to their 20 turnovers, though, the Rockets were 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) from the free throw line.

Collins shot 54.9 percent (28-for-51), including 60 percent (15-of-25) in the second half and made 17 of 22 (77.3 percent) from the free-throw line.  

Johnson finished 9-of-18 from the field, including 5-of-12 from 3-point range. He also had four rebounds and four assists. Stone, meanwhile, was 6-of-7 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. He added three assists and three steals.

“Ralphie’s playing with passion and that’s what all five guys on the floor have to do, they have to play with passion,” Gaither said.

Marshall added 13 points and Kidwell 10, all in the third quarter.

The Titans, whose Tuesday night game against Spencer County was postponed due to the threat of bad weather, play host Scott County at 9 tonight in a first-round game of the Toyota Classic at Georgetown.

Shelby County, which played at Henry County on Tuesday night, hosts North Oldham at 7:30 p.m. Friday.