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LEXINGTON — For over 31 minutes, the Oldham County high school boys’ basketball team’s leading scorer didn’t score.
But when his team needed him most, Colonels senior forward Tyler Wesley came through.
Wesely gave OCHS the lead for good with 3.9 seconds left on a layup and free throw and the Colonels lucked out on missed Knott County Central free throws to come away with a 36-34 win in the quarterfinals of the KHSAA Sweet 16.
Wesely, OCHS’ leading scorer this season with 12 points per game, picked up his second foul with 6:19 left in the second quarter and sat on the bench the rest of the half.
He started the third quarter, but received his third foul on a charging call with 4:05 left in the quarter. His fourth foul came on a block attempt just 11 seconds into the fourth quarter.
And while he sat on the bench for the next four and a half minutes, Wesely said he stayed calm and waited for his opportunity.
“It’s really disheartening to be in foul trouble,” he said. “I knew I’d come back in the game eventually. I wanted to make a difference somehow, it just happened to be in the last three seconds of the game.”
With the score tied at 33, the Colonels dribbled the ball as the clock ran.
With 10 seconds left, Wesley took a pass from junior forward Jacob Kopp at the left elbow. Wesley faked a pass to his left, spun to his right towards the basket and rolled the ball off his finger tips and into the basket. Fouled on the play, Wesely calmly connected on the free throw for a 36-33 lead.
“I told Tyler to fake the ball and go score,” OCHS Coach Jason Holland said. “If he got a go to the basket, I thought he could score. His aggressiveness went away with charges and blocks on him. I’m so proud of Tyler. He was frustrated but as long as the game stayed where it was, I wasn’t gonna bring him back in.”
To thwart a 3-point attempt by Knott County Central, junior guard Sam Gruber fouled senior guard Zack Davis at midcourt.
With his team in the double bonus, Davis hit the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. Davis fought for his own rebound with Kopp fouling him on a shot with 2.3 seconds left.
Davis missed the first free throw, intentionally missed the second, but the ball bounced around on the floor while the clock expired.
“When he threw the ball off the rim, I don’t think any of us were expecting it,” Kopp said. “I thought it was a lane violation personally, but when he got it back, everyone just panicked. I panicked and smacked on the ball and I guess I got him on the arm.”
The fiery Kopp also hit a clutch 3-pointer with 2 minutes remaining and made “3-point goggles” with his fingers over his eyes, in homage of University of Kentucky sophomore guard Doron Lamb, who does the same after made 3-pointers.
Despite an overall poor shooting night though, OCHS is back in the state semi-finals for the first time since 1985. The Colonels’ 31 wins also ties the mark held by the 1979-80 team.
“When we were here last year, we just kinda sat back and were amazed,” junior forward Garrett Masters said. “Now that we’re here again, we’re taking it a lot more serious and playing as hard as we can. It means a lot to be in the final four.”
Masters filled in valiantly in Wesely’s absence, with seven points and five rebounds. Kopp led OCHS with nine points, while senior forward Kerry Smith had nine rebounds to go with five points.
Neither team shot well from the beginning, but despite shooting just 11.8 percent in the first half, the Patriots trailed just 18-12 at halftime.
Knott County Central finished the game shooting 28.6 percent from the field compared to 31.4 percent by OCHS.
But Holland said he just wanted to advance to the semi-finals.
Now, he has.
The Colonels take on the winner of the Scott County/John Hardin game at 11:30 tomorrow morning at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
“We talked about, before the game, to play for our each other, to play for family and to play for our school and our county,” Holland said.
“It means a lot for our community and our school and families to get them in the final four.”
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