Trojans back on top: Barren holds off ACS rally to claim first district title since 2016

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SCOTTSVILLE – Barren County had been snakebit the past two years in the 15th District Tournament as the Trojans suffered a heart-breaking triple-overtime loss to Glasgow in the first round in 2018 before being eliminated by the Scotties in an overtime game once again last season. 

Now the Trojans are back on top.

Sophomore Aden Nyekan posted 24 points, senior Will Bandy added 15, and the Trojans held off a late surge by Allen County-Scottsville to hang on for a 71-65 victory at Patriot Gym and claim their first district title since 2016. 

“The last two years we’ve had tough losses in the first round in overtime games, and the season before that we made it to the championship game and got beat,” Barren County coach Warren Cunningham said. “We kind of challenged these guys because other than Will they haven’t been here. Aden Nyeken told (assistant coach Matt Gardner) before the game: ‘I want to win this so y’all can’t say we haven’t won anything.’ Because we use that on them sometimes, ‘If you want to win (district) this is what you’re going to have to do.’ We’re going to have to use something different next time.”

Nyekan was named Player of the Game for Barren County as he had a double-double by grabbing 12 rebounds in addition to his 24 points in his first ever district title game. 

“It feels good since it’s the first (district title), but hopefully it’s not the last one,” Nyekan said. 

Barren County (23-8) led 54-37 going into the final quarter after Mason Griggs drilled a 3-pointer just seconds before the horn at the end of third, but the Trojans left the door open by missing several free throws—going 11-of-24 from the charity stripe in the second half overall—while ACS standout junior Mason Shirley began to heat up and knock down big-time shots to cut into the Trojan lead. But the Trojans were ultimately able to prevail and hang on, and Cunningham was overall pleased with his team’s effort.

“I thought we played lights out,” Cunningham said. “I thought we were great and I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

The Trojans trailed the Patriots 16-15 at the end of the first quarter before Barren took control of the game with an 8-0 run as a 3-pointer by Gavin Withrow from the right wing put the Trojans in front for good—Barren going into the locker room with a 30-26 advantage. 

The third quarter is when Barren County began to pull away. 

After a trifecta by Shirley cut the Barren lead to 37-32 with 5:12 left in the period, the Trojans ended the frame on a 17-5 run as Griggs’ 3-pointer on Barren’s last possession of the third gave the Trojans plenty of momentum going into the fourth. 

“We got the ball in good places and made shots—also Mason making that three at the end of the quarter there,” said Cunningham about how his team made the run during that stretch.” We just made shots, and Aden was really good around the basket, using his strength and making good decisions.”

But Allen County-Scottsville was far from finished as the Patriots did their best to replicate their performance from Tuesday night when they erased a 39-30 deficit early in the fourth quarter against Glasgow in a come-from-behind win over the Scotties. 

The Patriots (15-15) trailed 66-56 with 1:47 to go after a pair of free throws by Jacob Shaw before Shirley knocked down three free throws to make it 66-59. Barren answered with a free throw at the other end, but ACS continued to chip away as a 3-pointer by Owen Stamper cut Barren’s advantage to 67-62 with 1:03 to go and in the midst of a 12-3 run.

Barren County pushed its lead back to seven before Michael Smith converted a three-point play with 38 seconds left to make it 69-65. However the Patriots were never able to get closer after that point as Barren hung on—Trojan senior Cody Lane providing a great hustle play off a missed free throw by Barren that effectively took away what would’ve been a valuable ACS possession with just seconds remaining. 

“We just had to keep our composure,” Nyekan said. “We knew (ACS) was going to do that. They’ve done that in lots of games this year, and we just had to focus through.”

Shirley led the Patriots with 30 points while also grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out six assists without committing a turnover. Jax Cooper added 18 points while knocking down 3-pointers, and senior Owen Stamper finished with seven in his final game in Patriot Gym. 

Although Nyekan and Bandy scored the majority of Barren’s points, the Trojans still did a great job of distributing the basketball as seven other players from Barren scored in the game. Griggs and Shaw finished with nine points apiece, Withrow, Tyler Bush, Taye Poynter, and Lane each tossed in three, and Ryan Shirley added two.

This has been one of Barren’s main strengths this season and Cunningham attributes this unselfishness as a major factor in the Trojans’ play since a loss at Bowling Green in early January. That loss dropped Barren to 7-6 on the year, but the Trojans have caught fire in the second half of the season as they have now won 16 of their last 18 games. 

“The story of our team has been our unselfishness,” Cunningham said. “We’ve been steady and we’ve been quiet since early January and we’ve been really good. We have three guys that average double figures, and they could average more points if they were ‘the only guy’ but they give. Will Bandy has give more and our team has been so much better this year. He averaged two or three more points last year and took more shot, but it makes our team so much better as he has more assists than he’s had in his career. Our guys work for each other, they play hard together, but our unselfishness and the fact that we all do it together is our strength.”

Barren County 71, Allen County-Scottsville 65

Barren County (71): Aden Nyekan 24, Will Bandy 15, Mason Griggs 9, Jacob Shaw 9, Gavin Withrow 3, Tyler Bush 3, Taye Poynter 3, Cody Lane 3, Ryan Shirley 2. 

ACS (65): Mason Shirley 30, Jax Cooper 18, Owen Stamper 7, Michael Smith 4, Charlie Calvert 2, Jake Bow 2, Tyler Ford 2.

Barren Co.    15       15       24       17       –71

ACS                 16       10       11       28       —65

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