Marquee matchup

Eljay Cowherd drives to the Georgetown College basket against University of Pikeville as a nearly packed house at Davis-Reid Alumni Gym looks on Saturday. Jacob Conway, right, scored a career-high 31 points for the No. 1 Tigers in a 73-60 victory.

Georgetown College welcomed back three senior centerpieces, all Kentucky-raised, four-year contributors, from its NAIA national champion men’s basketball team.

Two clearly stood out as elite players in the nation. Chris Coffey can jump through the roof of Davis-Reid Alumni Gym and is almost assured of double-digit points and rebounds every time he takes the court. Eljay Cowherd is an electrifying playmaker at point guard.

Underestimate or ignore Jacob Conway at your peril. The 6-foot-5 Lincoln County product has found his niche as an outside shooter for No. 1 GC this season, as No. 4 Pikeville can attest after Saturday’s clash of unbeaten, in-state rivals.

Conway rained down four 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 31 points as Georgetown reigned, 73-60, in the marquee Mid-South Conference and national game of the weekend.

Fourth on the team at 16.4 points per game this season, Conway had never previously scored more than 15 in a conference game.

“He was huge for us,” GC coach Chris Briggs said. “Really came through and played well. Led us big time.”

Cowherd chipped in 14 points, while Coffey combined a hard-earned 11 points with 16 rebounds for Georgetown (12-0 overall, 2-0 MSC).

Pikeville (14-1, 2-1) brought in wide body Da’Rell Domineck off the bench, combining him with nimble starting center Luke Layhew to double-up Coffey and muddle the middle.

Layhew led the Bears with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Domineck added 13 point. Jazz Parker produced 10.

“It was a bloodbath in the paint, wasn’t it?” Briggs said. “We knew they would try to do that with those two big guys inside. They hadn’t really played them together a lot during the season, and I knew they would, because they did last year here, too.”

Kyran Jones (seven points) brought added muscle to the paint for the Tigers, as did Hugo Mbumba with several crucial rebounds and two blocked shots in the second half.

A near-capacity crowd contributed to the customary sweltering temperature in the venerable arena. The second half was predictably a defensive stalemate after GC set out to a 42-29 lead at intermission.

“I feel for Coffey down there. He was just getting banged, banged, banged, banged,” Briggs said. “Sometimes he doesn’t hold his ground as well as he could and raises up sometimes a little early, but he played his butt off down there and went to war for us. They scored on some, but we’ll take the final scoreboard.”

Layhew scored the initial basket of the afternoon, but GC never trailed after Coffey’s reply 13 seconds later.

Threes by Conway and Cowherd helped stretch the margin to double digits for the first time, 20-10, at the 12:23 mark.

That gap grew to 15 on another Conway triple with 3:19 to go, but that was the Tigers’ final field goal of the half.

“I was kind of mad going into halftime, because we missed some I thought we should have made. It should have been a bigger lead,” Briggs said. “I’m thinking we’re going to let them hang around. That’s the way it is. Sometimes they go down and sometimes they don’t. We knew we had to be tough and fight through it, and we did.”

Pikeville crept within nine points before Jones’ 3-pointer broke the cold snap early in the second stanza.

GC’s cushion never again dipped below a dozen.

“The rotation was pretty good. I thought Jaquay (Wales) was good off the bench. Hugo blocked some big shots. Guys stepped up, and we stuck together and got it done. That’s what it’s all about.”

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

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