By Les Dixon / Sports Editor
SOUTH LAUREL — After seeing his team capture a last-second win over 50th District rival Corbin on Tuesday, South Laurel coach Jeff Davis was quick to say the win didn’t mean anything if his team didn’t build off of it during its next game.
The Cardinals did just that by knocking down a season-best 14 three-pointers while shooting 51 percent from beyond three-point range during the process to beat Barbourville Saturday, 82-71.
The win marked the first time in two weeks that South Laurel (9-11) won consecutive games.
“I hope we can bottle that up and take it the rest of the way,” Davis said about his team’s shooting effort. “We shot the ball really well. I think the last few games we’ve been shooting better and that helped us early on. We can’t live by the three, though.
“I think this was big from the standpoint that we were focused,” he added. “Our guys understand the importance of getting on a roll and getting more consistent. The main thing tonight was to play well.”
Sophomore Zac Baxter turned out to be one of the main reasons his team picked up the 11-point victory. He connected with nine three-pointers while scoring a game-high 31 points.
“I think the preaching is paying off,” Davis said. “If you go back and look every time we talk, he needs to play under control and when he plays under control, great things happen.
“Tonight he played under control,” he added. “He was fluid in his shot. He’s capable of having more of these games, but it’s when he tries to force things he tends to get himself in trouble, but for the most part he’s getting to playing patient. Knock on wood, I hope it doesn’t go back, but it’s been a good thing for us.”
Davis said one of the keys going into the game was to limit Barbourville’s Alexander Phipps’ shot attempts from three-point range. He finished the game with three while scoring only nine points.
“We didn’t want to give him a chance to even look at one,” he said. “He’s so dangerous. He’s a big scoring part for them. We just couldn’t keep him off the free-throw line.”
The Cardinals built a 28-15 lead at the end of the first quarter, but a three-pointer by Devon Mills ignited a 15-2 run that saw the Tigers grab a 33-32 edge with 3:07 remaining in the first half.
South Laurel managed to hold a slim 39-38 edge at halftime before putting the game away in the third quarter behind five-of-nine shooting from three-point range.
Baxter knocked down four of those and scored 12 points to help push his team’s lead to 65-52 going into the fourth quarter.
“I thought they shot the ball extremely well tonight,” Barbourville coach Dinky Phipps said. “Matter of fact, I thought they shot it better than I’ve seen them play all year. Not only were they shooting threes, but they were shooting from 23 and 24 feet and making them.
“They were quicker than us,” he added. “We wanted to stay in striking distance, so we could make a run at the end, but we just fell behind too much. I’m proud of my kids, though. This is the hardest they’ve played since the All ‘A’.”
South Laurel 82, Barbourville 71
Barbourville 15 23 14 19 71
South Laurel 28 11 26 17 82
Barbourville (71) — Mills 22, Strong 12, Phipps 9, J. Mills 16, Moore 7, Engle 2, Perry 3.
South Laurel (82) — Slavey 16, Sanders 6, Baxter 31, Schaser 10, Miller 8, Vandaventer 2, Jones 8, Helton 1.