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Thomas More men knock off national No. 8 Ashland after a long, hard week of practice prep


By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

It was a long, hard tough week of practice for the Thomas More men’s basketball team after an embarrassing 89-74 loss at Cedarville.

Coach Justin Ray challenged his guys. They had an unbeaten Ashland team coming in Saturday, No. 8 in the nation and one of only 15 NCAA Division II unbeaten teams left. And they were going to have to show what they were made of.

“All week long, Coach has been harping on us to get tough,” said returning NAIA All-American Reid Jolly. “It kind of offended us,” the 6-foot-5 Campbell County alum said with a big smile after scoring a game-high 22 points to lead the Saints (6-3, 2-1 in the G-MAC) to a somewhat shocking – only not to themselves, the players said – 79-69 win over the now 7-1 (2-1 GMAC) and no longer unbeaten Eagles.

Thomas More’s Reod Jolly and Casey George. (Photo by Dan Weber)

“We’re missing a few guys,” Ashland Coach John Ellenwood, the former head coach at Thomas More (2006-2009) said, because of sickness, “and that hurt us but no excuses.” Ellenwood had said earlier in the week it would be “a special day, going back where you started.” And where he said he learned so much from then TMU AD and now VP for Athletics Terry Connor.

No excuses for a TMU team that executed its offense almost flawlessly (just four turnovers and 12 offensive rebounds to just two for a bigger Ashland team with two starters 6-9 and 6-7 bigger than any of the Saints, who outrebounded them, 31-22) while hitting on 30 of 62 (48.4 percent) shots from the field.

“A huge step forward,” Ray said of his team’s improvement this week. But a bigger step  on offense or defense? Where did more improvement come? “The real answer is both,” Ray said although if you watched Ray and assistants Spencer Berlekamp and Ryan Tanner, it was on defense where they were really into the game.

“Double-teaming and constant rotation,” was the answer for limiting the likes of 6-9 Victor Searls (16 points) and 6-7 Maceo Williams (11).

How much did Thomas More want this one? Six-foot guard Casey George grabbed nine rebounds mostly on toughness and desire with his three on offense more than the entire Ashland team.

TMU coaches were in the game, almost literally. (Photo by Dan Weber, NKyTribune)

“Those guys have logged a lot a lot of minutes and won big games for us,” Ray said of junior starters George and 6-3 Wyatt Vieth, who combined for 16 points and 11 rebounds even though they may not be as big or athletic as some of the people they’re playing against.

Although that’s not the issue for Jolly, who was able to back down any of the Ashland front-liners who chose not to double-team him despite his 10 field goals on 18 attempts with a game-high-tying nine rebounds.

Point guard Jacob Jones added 13 points with a couple of key drives for scores when TMU needed them most in the final minutes. And Kyle Ross added 10 points, the same as freshman sharpshooter Nathan Dudukovich.

“I feel like we had a really good gameplan,” George said, “crowd the ball, get it out of (Simon) Wheeler’s hands, and crash the offensive boards.” As quick and accurate as Wheeler was (10 of 19 shooting for 21 points), that wasn’t easy to do. But after he scored nine points in an 11-3 run to put Ashland ahead 52-45 with 13 minutes left, TMU managed to do just that.

And went on a 17-0 run led by Jolly, George and Vieth to re-take the lead at 62-52 with just under seven minutes left, it was just a matter of keeping it going.

“They did a good job executing down the stretch,” Ellenwood said. And for some reason, Ashland just couldn’t find an answer, or a defender, for Jolly.

Thomas More Coach Justin Ray, on the stool, goes over end-game plan with his Saints. (Photo by Dan Weber/NKyTribune)

“This is the kind of game where Reid Jolly comes alive,” Ray said, “he’s a gamer.”

“I’m not sure what that means,” Jolly said with a grin. What he was sure of is how “the energy in the building was so big.”

What else was big is that in moving into the NCAA’s Division II and the Great Midwest Conference, the Saints took the NAIA and the Mid-South Conference with them.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Ray said. “Having to play (NAIA) national champions Georgetown and Shawnee State . . . that’s a no-brainer.”

His guys have been in big games even if the teams in their new conference don’t know it yet.

But no surprise, Ellenwood said. “Everybody’s pretty good in our conference, the team picked for eighth (Kentucky Wesleyan) opened with a win at Louisville.”

And now Thomas More has joined the club, beating the defending champion No. 1 GMAC team and joining the hunt for the top spot.

SCORING BY HALVES
ASHLAND 33 36—69
THOMAS MORE 35 44—79
ASHLAND (7-1, 2-1 GMAC): Williams 3-0-5-11, Searls 7-0-2-16, Adams 4 0 1 9, Wheeler 10 1 0 21, Conley 2 1 0 5, Etzler 10 0 2, Gregory 1 0 0 2, Edwards 1 0 1 3, TOTALS 29-52 3-11 8-12 69.
THOMAS MORE (6-3, 2-1 GMAC): Jolly 10 2 0 22, Ross 4 0 2 10, Vieth 3 1 2 9, Jones 6 0 1 13, George 2 0 3 7, Dudukovich 2 0 6 10, Browne 0 0 0 0, Paris 2 2 0 6, Teten 1 0 0 2, TOTALS: 30-62 5-18 14-18 79.


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