Boys’ Sweet 16 | Warren Central continues to make history with 74-57 win over Pikeville
LEXINGTON, Ky.— Warren Central continues to make a major push towards winning its second state title in school history.
The Dragons opened up the game against Pikeville with a commanding 23-6 lead, and Warren Central shot a blazing 66 percent from the field to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007 with a 74-57 victory over the Panthers in the quarterfinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen® Basketball Tournament on Friday afternoon at Rupp Arena.
“We’re shooting the ball well right now, and when we’re shooting it the way we are we’re a team that’s hard to guard because all of these guys can shoot the ball,” Warren Central coach William Unseld said. “They pass the ball, and they move it well. But the good start more than anything relaxes you: We got a good start, and now we’re ready to go.”
Jordan Cousin led the Dragons in the win with 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field, and he scored 15 of his points in the second half. Skyelar Potter finished with a double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds while Tayshaun Bibb and Kemal Esmic tallied eight points apiece.
Warren Central (31-5) broke the school record for most wins in a single season with the win over the Panthers—an accomplishment that is quite notable for a program that has won one state title and been up to the state tournament a total of 14 times in school history.
“It’s special for them,” Unseld said. “They’ll always have that. They’re a great group of kids and hungry. We told them a long time ago that if they (stuck) with it, by this time they’d be really special. I’m just happy for them because that’s something they’ll have until (another Warren Central team) can get it.”
“This team is special because last year we went from losing in the first round of districts…and now we’re in the Final Four,” Bibb said. “We’ve been working five days a week since July…that’s what makes it special to me.”
Warren Central led 23-11 at the end of the first quarter, but the Panthers clawed right back into the game—a layup by Connor Roberts narrowing the Dragons’ lead to 23-15 with 6:06 left in the first half.
Cousin answered back on the ensuing possession with a three-point play to push Central’s advantage back to double digits, and the Dragons ultimately ended the half on a 11-6 run to take a 34-21 lead into the locker room.
Pikeville (25-10) fought back to make it 39-30 on a layup by Zach Hamilton at the 2:38 mark of the third quarter before Potter answered with a pair of free throws to extend the lead out to 41-30. Potter tallied two more free throws for the Dragons a little over a minute later, and Esmic scored back-to-back baskets to give Warren Central a 47-30 lead entering the final frame.
“The other night we got in foul trouble and (Esmic) came in and gave us 16 great minutes, and he did the same thing (Friday),” said Unseld of Esmic’s play off the bench. “He’s a guy that we can rotate around on multiple bodies, and he can move around because he has those good soccer feet. Good hands, and he can shoot the ball. He’s kind of like our Swiss army knife…we do a little bit of everything with him.”
Cousin scored nine of the Dragons’ first 11 points of the fourth quarter, and his dunk with 3:56 left pushed Central’s lead out to 58-37—the Central student section echoing the ‘I believe that we will win’ chant soon after.
Pikeville—who saw the deficit widen to as many as 22 points during the fourth quarter—was led in the loss by Wyatt Battaile with 12 points. A former Kentucky Mr. Basketball candidate that poured in 30 against John Hardin just two days before in the first round, Battaile struggled to find his rhythm against Central and shot just 4-of-12 from the field—primarily because of the defensive efforts of Bibb.
“Tayshaun did a heck of a job defensively,” Unseld said. “Part of the gameplan was we wanted to make (Battaile) work for all of his shots. Tayshaun did a great job of being an unselfish teammate and worked him, wore him down a little bit.”
Warren Central held Pikeville to just 44 percent from the field, and the Panthers did not have another scorer in double digits besides Battaile.
The Dragons look to keep their remarkable season rolling when they take on 11th Region champion and top-ranked Scott County (36-1) on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. (ET). The Cardinals—who have not lost to a Kentucky school all season long—advanced with a 73-62 victory over Corbin in the first quarterfinal game on Friday. Staying true to the message that he’s had for his team throughout the whole postseason, Unseld wants his team to just go out and play loose.
“Nobody is going to expect us to win the basketball game, so we’re just going to relax and have fun,” Unseld said. “Right now we’re in the Final Four: one of the final four teams in the state of Kentucky. We’re going to go out there and play. Nobody is expecting us to win so there’s no pressure on us. We’re just going to go out and do what we do, and whatever happens happens.”