VERSAILLES — Saturday afternoon at the Mack Calvert Classic could have been an icing-on-the-cake win for the Great Crossing High School boys' basketball team, but the Warhawks might have been stuffed by a sumptuous, successful week.
North Laurel, which entered the neutral-court battle with only one loss and a strong case for a spot in the state's top 25, had a consistent reply for GC's repeated rallies, including a 16-8 finishing kick to close the door on a 75-63 victory.
Great Crossing (4-4) bid farewell to a four-game winning streak, one that included triumphs over its two neighboring, natural rivals, Franklin County and Scott County, earlier in the week.
“We had a phenomenal week, so it's a little bit disappointing, but to the same point, it happens,” GC coach Steve Page. “We were 0-3 and we're 4-4 now, so it's hard to be unhappy overall.”
Open 3-pointers scorched the Warhawks in first half, while uncontested drives and layups were the bugaboo beyond intermission.
Isaiah Alexander furnished the former, with 12 of his 19 points coming off the bench in the opening period for the Jaguars (7-1). Freshman sensation Reed Sheppard — son of two-time UK national champion Jeff — capitalized on the latter with 23 points, all after the first eight minutes, to earn most valuable player honors.
“We had an awful time getting stops. We were in a situation down eight or 10,” Page said. “Sheppard is a good one already but gonna be a really good one. He kind of carved us open there. We did a bad job rotating to stop him and make him kick it out there in the third quarter.”
Cole Kelley also collected 16 of his 21 points in the second half for North Laurel. Ryan Davidson made it four double-digit scorers with 10.
K.J. Tucker led Great Crossing with 21 points, closely followed by Michael McKenzie with 19. It was a hit-and-miss day, however, with the duo combining for 13-for-36 from the field, including 4-of-18 from 3-point range.
Jaylen Barber added 13 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots for GC, while Neil Baker finished with seven points and five assists.
Down by a dozen early in the second half, Great Crossing used a 10-2 run to make of a game it.
No coincidence, probably, that it was the Warhawks' most consistent stretch of getting to the rim all day. McKenzie triggered the rally with a traditional 3-point play. Tucker and Barber combined to sink five of six from the line.
Sheppard's old-fashioned 3-point play and a bomb by Kelley nipped that comeback in the bud. Three consecutive uncontested layups by Sheppard and Davidson, including another and-one by Sheppard, made it a 57-45 margin early in the fourth.
“We started the second half very sluggish, went down 12, and then we were fighting an uphill battle from there,” Page said.
Still brimming with confidence off its historic week, Great Crossing wouldn't go away. Back-to-back Tucker triples, the latter off a tip rebound by Skylar Feezor, sliced the gap to 59-55.
Barber answered another 3-point play from Kelley with a spin move for two. GC trailed by five and had the ball off a Barber steal when Page received a technical foul due to what seemed a relatively tame reaction after Baker took an elbow to the head in the Warhawks' half court offense.
“At the end of the day, no matter what happens, I can't get that when we're down five,” Page said. “I should have let the play run out and said something else. We put ourselves in that position(of playing catch-up), not the referees.”
Sheppard sank the two resulting free throws before Alexander cashed in for a bucket off th automatic, ensuing possessions. GC never again nudged closer than eight.
The game was a late bloomer. It was 2-1 four minutes into the opening period before Alexander's initial left corner three opened the floodgates.
North Laurel, led by former Lexington Christian Academy coach Nate Valentine, entered the cross-roads showdown off a similar emotional high from beating ranked rival South Laurel on Friday night.
“When I went over and introduced myself to Coach Valentine, we laughed and said it would probably be 2-2 at the end of the first quarter,” Page said. “After that I think both teams got any shot they wanted, and we just couldn't make them, but we've got to to a better job of defending.”
Alexander drained two more from the same sight line before Baker countered with one at the other end.
Kalib Perry's put-back to end the first quarter and Tucker's three to start the second trimmed the Warhawks' deficit to two.
“He had 12 of the first 16,” Page said of Alexander. “We watched him a couple times, and I think he made 40 percent, but he didn't shoot many. We kind of over-trapped one time, went to go guard a (lesser) shooter and left a good shooter open. That's kids not paying attention to the scouting report, but that stuff happens in the flow of the game.”
McKenzie nailed a three, then had a steal to set up Barber's put-back to make North Laurel's lead a tenuous 26-23 late in the half.
Tucker's bid for the tie rattled in and out, and the Jaguars closed the half with Davidson getting the shooter's roll off a right elbow jumper and Kelley nailing a 3-pointer from just in front of the GC bench for a 31-23 advantage.
“The last 30 seconds of the first half is what got us to where we were scrambling uphill. K.J. had that three that would have tied it that went halfway down and popped out,” Page said. “Then they got a two, and we were wanting to take the last shot. They pressured us, Mike went to the rim, just missed a good shot, and then they make a three on the other end. So we went fro potentially tied at one point, and then we're down eight at the half.”
Sheppard's sharp shooting and defensive toughness (five steals) prevented GC from getting that close again.
“I was worried about this game. We had a huge week, and they're a good team,” Page said. “I told the kids coming in they're as good if not better than any team we've played this year. Their loss was to Collins, which is a top-five team. We lost to a really good team and had a chance to win at times. We didn't progress unfortunately.”
Great Crossing will head west for a Christmas tournament at Logan County, playing three games, beginning with Hopkinsville on Friday.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.