Patriots battle hard, fall short against Madisonville-North Hopkins

Published 2:55 pm Thursday, March 14, 2019

By Nancy Leedy
and Matt Overing

LEXINGTON — The dream of every high school basketball team in Kentucky is to finish the season at Rupp Arena, the site of the state championship games.

The Lincoln County Patriots realized that dream Thursday night, playing on high school basketball’s biggest stage in the KHSAA Boys Sweet 16 State Basketball Championships.

After many wins and a strong postseason run, Lincoln found itself in the elite Sweet 16 field against Madisonville-North Hopkins, but the Patriots would see their season end in the first round as they fell 57-49 to the Maroons.

“We ran into a really good basketball team tonight,” Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson said. “Got to give them some credit. They’ve got a very, very good basketball team.”

The first-round win was the 23rd straight victory for Madisonville-North Hopkins (30-5), but Lincoln, which finishes the season at 23-13, battled hard to try and break that streak.

Lincoln led for most of the first quarter. Blake Smith opened the game scoring with a jumper then freshman Jaxon Smith, who scored 19 points and had a game-high six assists to lead the Patriots, tallied Lincoln’s next six points to keep the team up 7-6. Center Riley Bodner hit inside with 1:43 to play in the first to make it 9-6.

However, Kenny White, who had a game-high 21 points for Madisonville, and Ksuan Casey, who had 11 points, knocked down back-to-back buckets to edge the Maroons ahead 10-9 at the end of the first.

The Maroons extended their lead to 27-21 at the half, led 39-31 at the end of three and posted their largest lead of the game, a 12-point margin, 53 seconds into the fourth quarter.

But the Patriots would not go away. Jackson called a timeout to rally his team. And the Patriots responded, getting within three points late in the game.

“Our 2-2-1 press was really good, did a good job trapping, got some steals and transition baskets,” Jackson said. “… We didn’t do a very good job in transition defense tonight. We’ve not had teams run on us and get behind us like Madisonville did tonight. We gave them some easy baskets. We had a couple opportunities late to tie it and keep it close down the stretch. They hit free throws.”

Blake Smith hit a pair of 3’s during the comeback effort, Bodner scored two buckets in the paint and Jaxon Smith added three points from the foul line as Lincoln whittled the Madisonville lead to 47-44 with 2:46 left in the game.

“I’m proud of our basketball team,” Jackson said. “I’m proud of our kids and the way that they’ve grown and matured down the stretch. They played their tails off, they competed … There’s no coach in the state of Kentucky, and I mean this, more prouder of a group of kids than I am of our basketball team.”

Lincoln struggled with the Maroons’ length on both ends of the floor: White blocked six shots but made his presence felt most on offense with multiple dunks en route to his game-high 21 points. Casey matched Riley Bodner’s size on the inside and finished with a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with his 11 points.

The Maroons finished with 16 assists on 20 made baskets and had nine blocks. Lincoln limited turnovers (eight) but wasn’t as efficient on the offensive end, finishing 18-of-51 from the field compared to the Maroons’ 20-for-37 mark. Lincoln was 5-for-15 from 3-point range compared to a 1-for-8 effort by Madisonville. The Maroons sealed the win at the foul line, connecting on 16 of 22 free-throw attempts. The Patriots were 8-for-12 at the line.

Madisonville-North Hopkins would push its lead back to eight after the Lincoln run, and with under 30 seconds left, Jackson took his seniors – Darius Napier, Blake Smith, Bryson Yaden – out of the game and embraced each of them. Sawyer Carrier, another senior, dressed for the first time since breaking his foot against Eastern on Dec. 14.

“I told ’em I loved them,” Jackson said. “We’ve missed Sawyer. He’s a tremendous player, broke his foot bad. He just got cleared to dress tonight, he didn’t get to play but he did get to dress. Our four seniors have helped define the culture of what we try to do at our school. All four of them are good student-athletes, all four of them represent our school and our community, our program in the highest fashion.”

“We told our seniors, when it ends, we want it to end here … Really proud of them for their toughness, their guidance, their leadership. They are a special group and they will be missed.”

Those seniors helped guide the team to a remarkable 12th Region tournament run: The Patriots beat Mercer County without Jaxon Smith (flu) in the first round, beat Wayne County in five overtimes in the semifinals and then outlasted 45th District opponent Danville in the region title.

“I love our seniors, they’re the reason we’re here. Their leadership guided our young kids … They defined who we are every day in practice. They were so much fun to be around, as good of chemistry on a team that I’ve had a chance to experience in 34 years. It was fun.”

It was the first trip to Rupp Arena for Lincoln County since 2008, and Blake Smith said it was an “unbelievable experience.”

“At the beginning, the seniors, we talked with the whole team,” he said. “This is where we wanted to end it, this was our goal for the year. It’s been tremendous. I love every one of them, I’m going to miss it. It was a great season.”

Jaxon Smith and returners Riley Bodner, Elijah Frye, Bryston Alcorn, Riley Bodner and Baylor Mattingly all received invaluable experience playing at Rupp Arena. For Jaxon Smith, he’s itching to return with his brother on the team next year.

“I’m just going to tell him that it was a great experience,” he said. “I’m glad to be here, it was great coming as a freshman and I’d love to come back as a sophomore, him to come up as a freshman and be able to experience that with him would be pretty cool.”

Lincoln will be in the mix again for a region championship next year, and Jackson said he’s already eager to return to the gym and prepare. He said that his four seniors were instrumental in showing what it took for a trip to Rupp.

“We’ve got good kids coming, all the way through our middle school program,” Jackson said. “Blake, Bryson, Darius, Sawyer laid the foundation that hopefully these kids are excited about what they saw this year, the impact that it has on our school and our community. We’ll be back at it and I hope our younger kids are hungry and I hope they want to come back and experience this again. We’ve got several juniors who will be seniors next year, I want them to come back and finish here.”

KHSAA State Tournament
First Round
at Rupp Arena

Madisonville-North Hopkins 10 17 12 18 – 57
Lincoln Co. 9 12 10 18 – 49

MADISONVILLE-NORTH HOPKINS (30-5) – Kenny White 21, Ksuan Casey 11, Cade Cunningham 9, JD Gilbert 6, Marquise Parker 4, Jordan Vaughn 4.

LINCOLN COUNTY (23-13) – Jaxon Smith 19, Riley Bodner 11, Blake Smith 10, Bryson Yaden 3, Baylor Mattingly 3, Bryston Alcorn 2, Elijah Frye 1.