Winner, and new champion

Scott County High School product Cooper Robb received EKU’s player of the game “championship belt” after a Tuesday performance that included eight steals.

Deflections aren’t a traditional basketball statistic in the manner of points, rebounds, assists, steals or blocked shots.

To be part of the Scott County High School pipeline like Eastern Kentucky University guard Cooper Robb and head coach A.W. Hamilton, however, means you’re well-versed in how those tipped balls and frequent flights through the passing lane contribute to the success of a program.

Robb, a 6-foot-2 junior transfer, was every bit that nagging gadfly circling the collars of High Point University on Tuesday night in EKU’s 86-67 victory at McBrayer Arena.

In addition to his stuffing of the official stat sheet — Robb registered team-highs of eight steals and six rebounds to go with five points in 29 minutes after starting the game on the bench — his fast fingers altered the direction of Panther passes a whopping 19 times.

“This season, we really haven’t had Jomaru Brown. We haven’t had Brandon Knapper. Those two guys can really, really score. So when we insert Brandon, it takes a lot of pressure off Cooper to score,” Hamilton said in his post-game radio interview with Greg Stotelmyer.

“Obviously I want him to score, and I want him to shoot the ball with confidence, but what he did out here tonight, he had 19 deflections and eight steals. That’s hard to do in a basketball game. Nineteen deflections? That’s really good. Teams don’t get 19 deflections.”

Robb, whose 3-point percentage at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte last season was among the best in the nation, started his first seven games for EKU.

Aside from a barrage of threes in a nationally televised overtime loss at Xavier, Robb has been in an offensive slump. Tuesday’s 2-for-5 showing lifted him to 22.4 percent from the field on the  campaign.

It has been a team-wide issue. Knapper, a West Virginia transfer who made his initial start after missing the first seven games while recovering from knee surgery, led the Colonels with 21 points on only 5-for-19 shooting. He was 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.

Wendell Green Jr. added 13 points and eight assists, while EKU’s other Scott County star, sophomore Michael Moreno, scored 12.

“Everybody’s going to guard the paint on us right now and make us shoot shots, because we haven’t shot a great percentage,” Hamilton said. “I’m going to stand by my guys. We’re going to make shots. Brandon can make shots. Cooper can make shots. Peyton (Broughton) can make shots. We’re gonna be fine. As long as we’re not taking bad threes and we’re taking rhythm threes, I’m OK.”

Moreno scored all but two of his points in the second half after High Point trimmed a 23-point deficit down to 10.

“Michael was huge when we needed him to be huge. He got in foul trouble early, and he had fresh legs in the second half,” Hamilton said. “Michael Moreno’s a star, and that’s what stars do. When we need him the most, he steps up.”

Eastern Kentucky improved to 7-2 overall in closing out its non-conference schedule. Its record of six wins and only the one loss to Xavier in those contests marks the Colonels’ best winning percentage outside the Ohio Valley Conference since the 1948-49 season.

EKU’s patented pressure forced 23 turnovers from High Point, which is coached by University of Kentucky hall of famer Tubby Smith.

Back in 1998, Hamilton was instrumental in winning a KHSAA state title as point guard at Scott County while Smith guided the Wildcats to the NCAA championship.

“I’ve met a lot of people coaching basketball. He’s the best. He and I have developed a great relationship. He recruited my guys at Hargrave (Military Academy). He signed one of them,” Hamilton said. “I played for one of his best friends, Ron Jirsa (at Marshall).

“The thing that stood out to me about Coach is a long time ago I worked one of his camps, and the first night he would go around and thank everybody, and he would talk to you like you had been lifelong friends. That’s the type of person he is. It’s an honor to coach against him. I just think the world of him.”

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

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