Cards top Oldham, advance in Sweet 16 – See photo gallery
It was a long time coming, but the George Rogers Clark Cardinals finally got to play in the state tournament Wednesday night, and they made the most of the opportunity.
After winning the 10th Region title last season and missing the trip to the state tournament due to COVID-19, getting to make the trip to Rupp Arena this year was extra special. The Cards (20-4) knocked off the Oldham County Colonels (14-5) by a score of 54-47 in the first round of this year’s Sweet 16.
GRC scored the first 8 points of the game, and they never trailed in the win. They built a lead that reached as many as 15 points and stayed at or near double digits for most of the game. Oldham County closed the gap late, getting as close as four points, trailing 51-47 with 43 seconds left in the game. The Cards made 3 of 5 free throws in the final minute and pulled out the 54-47 win.
Junior Jerone Morton led the scoring for GRC with 19 points, including hitting 2 of 6 shots from three-point range, despite not scoring in the first quarter. He remained patient, and later credited his teammates with getting his offensive game going.
“My teammates started seeing me open in their little 2-2-1 press. That’s how I got going and started knocking down my shots,” Morton said.
Jared Wellman, a senior, also had a solid night for the Cards. He put up 10 points while grabbing a team-high seven rebounds.
“These guys are awesome,” GRC head coach Josh Cook said of Morton and Wellman after the game. “These two guys were a huge part last year of winning a regional championship, and they were hungry to play here. They’re leaders and they make plays at the right time. One thing about our guys, they want to play defense, as well. Both of these guys can score a ton of points, but they’re also most nights guarding the other team’s best shooter or best playmaker, so these guys right here are true leaders for our basketball team.”
Cook said he was very pleased with his team’s defensive effort in the win.
“I thought defensively, like I told our guys in the locker room, defensively, that’s one of the best efforts I’ve been around,” Cook said. “Oldham County does such a great job with their system, you’ve really got to sit down and guard certain actions well, as far as also guarding the post well because they have such good size inside. But our guys, defensively, they really made a great effort to sit down and guard tonight.”
Next up for the Cards will be a matchup with the Elizabethtown Panthers (20-2) who advanced to the Friday morning matchup with GRC by knocking off Knox County Central 87-59 in their opening-round game. E-Town is a much different team than the taller Oldham County squad the Cards faced Wednesday. Asked what would be the key against E-Town, Cook had no doubt about his answer.
“I think it’s handling their pressure. Arguably, I’m going to make this statement, but I think I’ve got one of the better backcourts in the state of Kentucky,” he said. “I think it’s really important that we handle tomorrow (Thursday) the right way. We get focused, we understand, but also we’ve got to save some legs. That’s going to be an 11 o’clock game. E-Town can really score in a lot of ways. We’ve got some size and we’ll have to use that to our advantage. I think it’s going to be really important on our matchups, understanding who need to guard, what person, and making sure we guard our actions correctly. E-Town is really good. I’ve got to give them credit, they can get up and pressure the basketball, and when they make shots they are really hard to guard.”
Preparation was going to be big for GRC on Thursday, which was a so-called day off for the Cards. Cook said they will be busy getting ready for E-Town, and he called the day off “huge.”
“It’s huge, it’s huge. But one thing, I believe our guys are focused. Even with the quick turnaround of this game – Saturday night was the regional championship game, then come back and play on a Wednesday. We only had two days to prepare for Oldham, so our guys, I’m sure they’ll be ready to watch film and get prepared,” Cook said.
GRC faces Elizabethtown at 11 a.m. Friday. See results and photos online at www.winchestersun.com following the game.
OLDHAM – 7 – 15 – 6 – 19 – 47
GRC – 13 – 18 – 10 – 13 – 54
Aden Slone -12
Jerone Morton – 19
Jared Wellman – 10
Stanley Smothers – 9
Jeremiah Mundy – 4