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Red Devils end on hot streak, turn back Rams for win

Feb. 4—RUSSELL — Russell found itself in a grey area. It nearly cost coach Derek Cooksey a few more grey hairs.

The Red Devils opened the second half of their district tilt against Raceland with a field-goal drought that lasted six and a half minutes. But what transpired from that point on would only brighten the home team's outlook down the stretch.

Elijah Neel splashed a wing 3 at the 1:27 mark of the third quarter, igniting the 23-2 run that would follow. Russell held off a final Rams rally for a 58-55 win at Marvin Meredith Gym on Saturday night.

"On Friday night (at West Carter), we scored 91 points and were very efficient," Cooksey said. "We shot 68% for the game. I told the guys that this is how we are going to do it. It's through ball movement and paint touches. We are young and we try to force some things. When we get stops on the defensive end, it helps us with that mindset to get baskets on the other end. ... I am really proud of our guys defensively."

Neel followed up his first triple of the game with two more to start the fourth quarter. The freshman tallied the first eight points of the final game and Tatum Fleming hit from long range to give the Red Devils its first lead since they held an 18-17 advantage early in the second stanza.

Fleming added another 3 and Caleb Rimmer's two-handed flush closed out the decisive run. In five minutes of game time, Russell went from 15 points down to six ahead.

"It really started when we decided to fight back," Neel said of the comeback. "We didn't have much time to wait. We buckled down and started to hit the shots that we needed to make."

"I didn't have much falling tonight," he added. "To see one go through the net, it felt like I would make the rest of them."

Raceland experienced too many empty possessions after halftime. After producing an effective and energized performance in the first two quarters, the Rams managed eight points in the third frame to keep the Red Devils in shouting distance.

"It was too many turnovers," Raceland coach Joe Bryan said. "At the end of the third quarter, we missed a lot of layups. Russell's 1-2-2 zone hurt us. I thought we were prepared for it, but obviously, we weren't."

Cooksey credited his bench players, including Tyler Cordial and Ryder Burgess, and seniors Noah Quinn and Fleming for making an impact on the defensive end and changing the momentum in Russell's favor.

"We are at the point now where they understand their identity," Cooksey said. "Raceland did a great job in the first half. Our flow and rhythm were off. I saw kids stepping up. At halftime, I told them that we were a couple of stops from getting back in this game. It took us until the middle of the third quarter."

"Caleb ignited it and Elijah did a great job," he continued. "When we went to that zone, you could see our kids feed off of it. Tyler Cordial came in and gave us big minutes."

Twenty seconds after Rimmer's aerial highlight, the freshman forward picked up his fifth foul with 4:10 remaining on the clock. Cooksey said his team kept their composure in the final minutes.

"We have been through that before and we probably panicked at times," Cooksey said. "Caleb showed so much maturity. When things weren't going his way, and when he came to the bench after fouling out, he was over there cheering his teammates on. ... He understands that he has a leadership role and the kids follow him."

Raceland (12-10) kept fighting in the fourth quarter. Christian Large finished off a three-point play with 2:33 left in regulation to trim the Russell lead to 52-49. The Rams cut the margin to three one more time on a Connor Thacker 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.

"(Russell) just kept chipping away at it," Bryan said, "along with missing those layups. We let them get back into it. We had a chance to step on it and end it."

"We will be alright," he added. "We will get back to the drawing board. We will watch film and move on to Greenup County on Tuesday."

The contest provided a dramatic ending. Russell (13-7) turned the ball over on its ensuing possession, leaving Raceland with one more opportunity to extend the game. A final 3-pointer could not find its mark, allowing the Red Devils to preserve the victory.

"They are a great team," Neel said. "You never know what is going to happen. Anybody can beat anybody (in our district). We have to make sure that we keep our heads high and get ready for Greenup County."

Neel led the Red Devils in scoring with 19 points. Rimmer added 11 and Fleming chipped in 10.

"He's a floor general and plays well beyond his age," Cooksey said of Neel. "Our guys really trust him. He's done a great job of creating opportunities for others but he takes what the defense gives him and he's more assertive. He's hard to defend."

Thacker produced a double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Rams. Jonah Arnett netted 10 and Large picked up nine.

Russell improves to 4-1 in 63rd District seeding play. Raceland drops to 1-3. Both teams play at Greenup County this week.

RACELAND FG FT REB TP

Thacker 6-13 4-6 15 19

Topping 0-1 0-0 0 0

Large 3-10 3-3 2 9

Arnett 3-10 3-4 3 10

Sutton 4-7 0-0 3 8

Waller 1-5 0-0 3 2

Ison 2-5 0-0 2 4

Welch 1-4 1-2 2 3

Team 1

TOTAL 20-55 11-15 31 55

FG Pct: 36.4. FT Pct: 73.3. 3-point FGs: 4-18 (Thacker 3-5, Topping 0-1, Large 0-2, Arnett 1-6, Waller 0-3, Ison 0-1) PF: 17. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 9.

RUSSELL FG FT REB TP

Quinn 3-7 1-2 1 8

Neel 7-14 2-4 5 19

Rimmer 4-10 3-6 7 11

Pridemore 1-4 3-4 5 6

Fleming 3-9 2-2 5 10

Burgess 0-1 0-0 1 0

Kaczmarcyk 0-0 0-0 0 0

Cordial 2-5 0-0 7 4

Team 3

TOTAL 20-50 11-18 34 58

FG Pct: 40.0. FT Pct: 61.1. 3-point FGs: 7-20 (Quinn 1-5, Neel 3-6, Rimmer 0-2, Pridemore 1-1, Fleming 2-5, Burgess 0-1) PF: 10. Fouled out: Rimmer. Turnovers: 11.

RACELAND 13 21 8 13 — 55

RUSSELL 14 11 9 24 — 58

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msparks@dailyindependent.com