Bench lift

Xavier Parret of Great Crossing takes the ball to the basket against Chaz Austin of Frankfort during the 41st District boys’ basketball game Tuesday night at GCHS.

The second-leading scorer for the Great Crossing High School boys’ basketball team this winter at 14 points per game, Michael McKenzie didn’t score at all Tuesday night in the first half against Frankfort.

What concerned coach Steve Page most of all is that his streaky senior, committed to NCAA Division III Otterbein University, only attempted two shots.

“I implored him to be aggressive in the second half, and he shot with confidence,” Page said. “That’s the Mike McKenzie we have to have to compete at a high level every night, and it was nice to get it in the second half.”

McKenzie made seven of his eight tries after intermission, including three consecutive 3-pointers, on his way to a game-high 22 points in the Warhawks’ 76-53 victory over the 41st District rival Panthers.

K.J. Tucker added 16, Neil Baker 12 and Jaylen Barker 10 for Great Crossing (7-6 overall, 2-0 district), which overcame foul trouble and some difficulty attacking Frankfort’s 2-3 zone in the first half.

“I wasn’t aggressive, just like Coach said,” McKenzie said. “I didn’t even try to look for shots in the first half. Then the second half my teammates started finding me, and everything started clicking.”

Baker fueled Great Crossing with seven assists and three steals. The Warhawks served up 12 assists on 19 made field goals in the second half.

GC clung to a tenuous 27-24 lead at the half. Every starter except Baker sat a portion of the second quarter with two fouls, and he joined them on the sideline for much of the session, walking off the effects of a hard fall on his right hip.

“When we got a three-point lead with all the foul trouble we were in, I felt pretty good at halftime. One of the reasons I did is we changed defenses and got three turnovers,” Page said. “I knew then, we thought we could pressure them, but we struggle pressuring people. After seeing how they struggled with it, I knew we could extend it in the second half.”

McKenzie scored eight quick points in a little more than three minutes to deliver a double-digit lead.

In addition to his three 3-pointers, McKenzie calmly swished all three free throws after he was fouled on another attempt. 

“As a team, we’ve struggled getting the ball inside, and then poor shooting, so they went zone the whole first half,” McKenzie said. “That’s thrown us off in at least three of our losses. The second half we picked it up.”

He scored 18 in the third period, alone, while the Warhawks pressured the Panthers into a total of 13 and ripped open a 58-37 advantage.

“We scored 31 in the fourth. I think we could have scored 40. The difference was the first three minutes we were dribbling all the way. Then we started hitting ahead on the pass, and that’s when we got three or four layups,” Page said. “Most of them were right in front of the rim. They were just a matter of us beating them down the court or making the extra pass.”

Sophomore center Jackson Twombly scored 10 of his team-high 17 points in the first half for Frankfort (5-11, 0-2), which fell to its seventh consecutive loss.

GC limited Chaz Austin, who entered the game averaging a team-high 16 points per game for Frankfort, to 10, most of it on two academic, fourth-quarter threes.

Frankfort’s first-half parade to the free-throw line (11-for-14) proved only half as prolific (5-for-7) after the break. Barber was the only Warhawk to foul out. Page felt much of GC’s dif ficulty at the start of the game, other than the whistles, was self-inflicted.

“I’m really disappointed with 18 turnovers. They really didn’t pressure us. We had 11 in the first half, and they played (zone),” the coach said. “We’ve just been passing the ball around the perimeter and not attacking gaps, so we had a film session at 6:30 tonight, and I think the first half they were a little tentative trying to process what we told them.”

Great Crossing received great help from its bench to stem the tide. 

Xavier Parret spelled Barber with six points and three rebounds. He and Carson Walls each had a go-ahead basket in a first half that featured nine lead changes. Walls’ was a three.

Kalib Perry and Tyler Sparks also contributed to the flurry of steals, drawn charges, tie-ups and other hustle plays.

“It helps a lot when the starters get in trouble and the bench comes in and they lift us up like that,” McKenzie said. “It’s a confidence boost.”

GC needed that pick-me-up after its most lopsided loss of the season Friday at Lincoln County.

“The Lincoln County game we weren’t ready to play at all, and then tonight we came in and we started off slow,” McKenzie said. “I think it’s a game of runs for us. The second half everything just started clicking for us, and I think that’s what it’s been the whole season.”

In another film session since that trip, coaches showed McKenzie his 3-point proficiency has been below normal because he has been standing two or three feet beyond the high school arc.

“He’s a much better shooter than that,” Page said. “We tried to show him on film that he’s shooting a college/NBA three, so his percentages naturally go down, because he doesn’t step in and get ready to shoot.”

McKenzie was named WesBanco player of the game on the Birds’ Nest Broadcasting Network.

Barber and Baker’s seven rebounds each, plus six from Tucker, led a committee approach that produced a wide, 40-19 advantage on the boards for GC.

The Warhawks’ weighty, first-year slate continues with a visit to the reigning KHSAA champions Friday and a return home Saturday for a rugged Louisville-Lexington twin bill.

“We’ve got a heck of a weekend, at Trinity, and then Douglass is playing as well as anyone in the 11th Region right no,” Page said. “You want to test your kids, especially when you’ve got eight seniors.

“For us, though, it’s about winning district games. We play Western Hills (also undefeated) next Tuesday. That’s for the lead at the halfway pole. Then we go to Franklin County after that. We’re going to have to take care of business next week, and it will set us up.”

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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