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Crater boys tighten race with victory over Ashland

CENTRAL POINT — Crater pinned the first conference loss on Ashland in boys basketball action Tuesday night, and in doing so crept within a half game of the Southern Sky Conference lead with its 62-54 triumph.

The Comets (10-6, 3-1 SSC) did most of their damage in the first half and never allowed the 10th-ranked Grizzlies (9-9, 4-1) to taste the lead thanks to a quick start and steady play throughout the contest.

Senior Nick Brothers led the Crater attack with 14 points and six assists, while 7-foot senior Jared Murphy continued his hot play with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks.

Ashland senior center Matt Lipski countered with game-highs of 20 points and eight boards, but it wasn't enough to deter the Comets from taking a big step toward their ultimate goal.

"It's huge for our kids," Crater coach Troy McNichols said of Tuesday's win. "They worked really hard tonight. They put themselves in a position to contend for this league championship. It's just one game, though. We've gotta finish the rest of the season."

The Comets scorched Ashland at both ends of the court in the first quarter. Crater was patient offensively and managed easy shots, many of which were layups, in taking a 13-4 lead. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, tallied only one field goal and a pair of free throws in the opening stanza to put themselves in an immediate hole.

Crater used an 8-0 run in the opening minutes of the second quarter to take their biggest lead of the game at 21-4, and essentially kept Ashland at bay from that point.

The Grizzlies responded with full-court defensive pressure, forcing a handful of Crater mistakes, but Ashland still found itself behind 30-20 at the break despite finally finding its offensive groove with a 12-6 scoring run to end the first half.

Brothers and Josh Lokeno were especially effective in the first half, scoring eight and seven points, respectively, as the Comets outshot Ashland (52 percent to 28 percent). The Grizzlies shot a cool 1-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half.

Crater once again enjoyed a good start to a quarter when play resumed, using a 6-0 run to boost its lead to 16.

Lipski helped spark a rally by the Grizzlies to answer, with the 6-9, 325-pounder scoring 10 points in the third quarter behind relentless play on the offensive boards.

A 15-foot jumper by senior Austin Raymond closed the third quarter and pulled Ashland within six points at 42-36 heading into the final eight minutes.

But, as they did in all four quarters, the Comets responded with a scoring run to begin the final frame, scoring the opening six points of the fourth.

Ashland refused to give in and responded with a 12-4 run of its own to pull within four points, 52-48, with just over 2:30 remaining.

Crater became more patient than ever at that point, employing a keep-away offense to help melt time off the clock. Ashland tried to respond with long-range shots, but the Grizzlies stayed cold and the Comets ended the game on a 10-6 run to secure the much-needed victory.

Lokeno finished with 11 points and six rebounds, while Travis Robbins added 11 points and five assists and senior Drew Runberg had eight points and nine rebounds for Crater. The Comets used only six players, with each scoring at least five points.

Ashland junior Garrett Tygerson posted 10 points and seven boards despite being hampered by foul trouble for most of the game. Senior guard Dillon Thigpen scored nine points and led the Grizzlies with five assists.

Ashland forced 13 Crater turnovers, but the Comets' 65 percent shooting from the field (23-for-35) and 42 percent effort (3-for-7) from deep doomed the Grizzlies. Ashland managed only 40 percent success from the field (21-for-52) and made just one 3-pointer in 10 attempts.

Although Ashland's Lipski led all scorers with 20 points, McNichols said the senior post would have been even more effective had it not been for the defensive play of Murphy.

"Jared was huge," McNichols said. "He did a good job of keeping his hands up and really distracting the shot. Matt (Lipski) is a good player, no question about that."

ASHLAND (54) — Lipski 20, Tygerson 10, Thigpen 9, Raymond 6, Moskowitz 4, Javna 2, Sebrell 2, Clement 1. Totals: 21-52 11-15 54.

CRATER (62) — Brothers 14, Murphy 13, Robbins 11, Lokeno 11, Runberg 8, Dalton 5. Totals: 23-35 13-21 62.

Ashland 4 16 16 18 — 54

Crater 13 17 12 20 — 62

3-point goals — Ashland 1-10 (Thigpen 1), Crater 3-7 (Brothers 2, Lokeno 1). Fouled out — Thigpen.

JV score — Ashland 56, Crater 41.