Cards Advance to the Final Four

Published 6:35 pm Friday, March 18, 2022

After the Pikeville Panthers held North Laurel – a team with a 79-point average – to 51 in their victory Wednesday night, one might assume that George Rogers Clark would be challenged to match its state- leading, 84-point per game average.

However, few could ignore the strength of the Cards’ defense following Friday afternoon’s performance.

In a game they never trailed, the Cards advanced to the Final Four following a 43-38 victory against the Pikeville Panthers in Rupp Arena, largely thanks to a defensive effort that saw them hold their-opponent to a season-low point total on just 28% shooting.

It’s the second time in the postseason that Clark has held their opponent to a season-low point total, along with their 57-45 win against Mason County in the 10th Region Semifinal on March 7.

“It’s tournament play, and you’ve got to have toughness. You’ve got to be able to guard,” Head Coach Josh Cook said. “When it comes down to it, and we need to get a stop, they’re going to guard. I was
proud of them.”

After scoring on its initial possession, the Cards were able to build a 9-2 first quarter lead. However, the Panthers’ defense soon began to create trouble, as the Cards were held to 16 points over the 2nd and 3rd quarter. They entered the 4th quarter with a 9-point, 29-20 lead.

“It was frustrating [offensively], but we’ve been there before,” senior guard Aden Slone said. “Especially in Tournament play, you know you’re going to have lower scoring games, so we just had to grind it out. Actually, it was good for us.”

The Panthers – who at one point in the Sweet 16 matchup rattled off a 15-0 run – were kept from having
similar success.

Rylee Samons – a key member of Pikeville’s offense in their prior win – was held to just two points for
the night.
“People know me for my offense, but they don’t know that I like to play real good defense,” guard Jerone Morton said. “I think it’s a challenge, and I like a challenge.”

Though by a slight margin, the Cards were able to edge the Panthers in a number of statistical areas – including rebounds (35 to 34), turnovers forced (14 to 11), and points off turnovers (10 to 3).

Each would benefit the Cards, as the Panthers rallied late.

After Slone’s free throws built a 9-pt. lead for the Cards with just over a minute remaining, the Panthers refused to go down easily.

A trio of three-point shots narrowed the lead to just one.

However, after they expanded their lead to three on another pair of free throws from Slone, a rebound and two more from Jerome Morton with only 2 seconds left clinched the victory.

Morton and Tanner Walton tied for the team lead with 11 points, while Walton and Sam Parrish each pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.

Aden Slone finished a perfect 4 for 4 on free throws, each coming in the game’s final moment.

“This year, being back in here, I didn’t have the nerves the same way,” Slone said. “It didn’t really feel clutch, it just felt like any other moment in the game.”

With their victory, the Cards move on play Lincoln County in a semifinal contest tomorrow at 11:00 am.

The winner of that game will play in the Championship game tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Saturday March 19.

Sports correspondent Matt Cizek wrote this story for the Winchester Sun.