Dragons hold off Mercer County, win sixth straight
It came down the wire, but Warren Central was able to pull through.
The Dragons, playing their second game in as many days, held off a speedy and versatile Mercer County team – one that it could in fact meet again in the postseason – on Saturday afternoon in the third-annual Wes Strader Schoolboy Classic, winning 67-59 on its own Tim Riley Court to record its sixth straight win.
“It’s not going to be perfect and pretty every night,” Warren Central coach William Unseld said. “We played a really good basketball team. We started out slow – and I was proud of my kids. We fought back into it.”
Mercer County led 16-13 after the first quarter, and it was tied 27-27 at halftime. The Dragons (24-3 overall) went on to outscore the Titans 40-32 in the second half to record their victory.
Wright State signee Skyelar Potter led Warren Central with 19 points and eight rebounds, while Micale Mee scored 13 points. Additionally, Jordan Cousin finished with a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“We’re glad we got the win,” Potter said. “We like it when this is a state game. It just gets us prepared for the postseason. During the Christmas tournaments we took two L’s, but we’re just trying to get that win streak back.”
Trevon Faulkner – a Northern Kentucky signee – carried Mercer County (21-5) with a game-high 24 points despite not playing most of the second quarter. Gunner Gillis added 14 points for the Titans, who suffered their first loss since Dec. 28 at Corbin.
It was all Mercer County early, as it started hot and jumped out to an 11-2 lead at the 5:12 mark of the first quarter. Warren Central responded, though, using an 11-5 run to close the opening quarter only down three at 16-13.
“In the first few minutes we just let them drive it to the rim. Then we turned it over a lot,” Unseld said. “So when we started getting the ball around the rim with Jordan and Skyelar, we’re hard to deal with.”
Faulkner was already up to eight points, while Potter had scored six.
Back-to-back baskets by Mee helped the Dragons tie it at 18-18 at the 5:41 mark of the second. A three-pointer by Potter – and a score inside by Tayshaun Bibb – gave Warren Central its first lead at 23-30 with 3:20 remaining in the opening half.
Gillis’ three-point play with just over a minute left put Mercer County back in front at 25-23 before the two sides were knotted at 27-all at halftime.
“We come out and wasn’t as focused and was kinda just doing our little thing,” Cousin said. “But then we realized we didn’t want to lose – so we come out with a dub.”
Potter had 10 points at the break, while Gillis was leading the Titans with 11. Faulkner sit out a majority of the second quarter, and that’s when the post player Gillis stepped up.
The Dragons and Titans continued to exchange baskets throughout the ensuing half.
After Mee knocked down a three to put Warren Central up 34-30, Mercer County scored five straight – courtesy of a triple by Faulkner – to give it a 35-34 lead. Jamale Barber followed up with the third straight deep ball – this one from the right wing – to give the lead back to the Dragons.
“Jamale can really shoot the ball – he just doesn’t,” Unseld said. “So, we’ve been telling him lately that, ‘You’ve got to shoot the ball because nobody guards you.’ He hit two big ones in the second quarter – and the one he missed was right at the rim. But he can really shoot the ball, and he’s going to shoot the ball for us moving forward.”
Warren Central stretched its advantage to 41-36 midway through the third quarter, but Faulkner with a three-point play to cut it to 41-39 at the 2:41 mark. Mee’s baseline drive and layup later sent the Dragons into the fourth leading 45-40.
Barber’s thee pushed Warren Central’s advantage to 51-43 with a little over six minutes remaining before Mercer County scored on three straight possessions to make it 51-48 at the 4:16 mark of the fourth.
“In that second half I didn’t score as well because they were double-teaming me, and I just kicked it out and worked inside-out,” Potter said.
Leading 54-50, Cousin splashed a three from the left corner to push the Dragons’ lead to seven with 2:02 left. A pair of Mee free throws soon after made it 59-50 and sealed the victory for Warren Central.
The Dragons return to action on Tuesday in a 7:30 p.m. game at Allen County-Scottsville.
“I think we’re playing our best basketball of the year right now,” said Unseld. “We’re 24-3 and I think this stretch right here we’ve had our best practices and we’re starting to play our best basketball. We’re starting to get contributions from other guys, as well.”