Fighting Tigers storm back to beat Ashland

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2004

ASHLAND, Ky. - The forecast called for heavy defense followed by a turnaround avalanche.

Trailing by as many as 15 points late in the second quarter, the Ironton Fighting Tigers turned up the defensive pressure and stunned the Ashland Tomcats 63-58 Tuesday.

Ironton coach Roger Zornes said the defense was the key to Ironton's comeback, but a heavy rain of Dennis Gagai 3-point shots helped the cause.

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"We switched up our defense and forced them to pass the ball over us. It made it easier to steal the ball," Zornes said. "The defense created some baskets and it was a snowball effect."

Ashland (7-6) opened up a 34-19 lead with 1:35 left in the first half when Brett Miller made a layup. Ironton used a 3-pointer by Joe Zornes and two foul shots by Derique Bacon to cut the deficit to 34-24 at the break.

The Tomcats shot 60 percent from the field the first half, but 45 percent the second half. Ironton limited Ashland to only five field goal attempts in the third quarter.

"We didn't give them the open look in the second half," coach Zornes said.

Gagai, who hit three shots from behind the arc in the first half, made three more in the second half as he scored 11 of his 20 points. Ironton was 9 of 28 from 3-point range, but Gagai was 6 of 12 as he set a personal record for 3-point goals in a game.

"I have been having a problem coming down wrong. I felt smoother. I hope my shot is coming around," Gagai said.

A layup by Josh Sands started the second half for Ironton, but Chad Johnson answered for the Tomcats with his own layup.

Ironton went on an 8-2 run with Waginger scoring seven points, including a steal and layup and a baseline jumper, to make it 38-34.

Gagai drained a 3-pointer and Nick Collins' layup tied the game at 39. Johnson's layup put Ashland ahead 41-39 at the end of the end of the quarter.

Waginger nailed a 3-pointer at the 7:02 mark to give Ironton its first lead since early in the game, a lead it would never relinquish.

Sands made two foul shots but Adam Howard hit a 15-footer for the Tomcats and it was 44-43. Gagai and Howard traded 3-pointers, but then Gagai hit a layup and 3-pointer and Zornes two foul shots as Ironton went up 54-46 with 2:33 left.

Matt Thomas made a 3-pointer from the corner for Ashland to cut the deficit to 54-49.

Sands scored nine points down the stretch, including 5 of 6 from the line, to seal Ashland's fate.

"The second half was a litany of turnovers and missed shots," Ashland coach Mike Flynn said. "Ironton came out the second half and got more physical. When the game was on the line, they stepped up and made the plays. Ironton is a really good team."

Besides Gagai's 20 points, Sands had 14 points, Zornes 12 and Waginger 10.

Howard led Ashland with 22 and Johnson added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

In the reserve game, Adam Cannon's halfcourt shot at the buzzer gave Ashland a 44-41 win. Brandon Walker scored 12 points and Brent McBride eight for Ironton. Robbie Wilcox had 16 for Ashland.



IRONTON (9-2):

Josh Sands 3-11 (0-5) 8-10 14, Brigham Waginger 3-9 (1-5) 3-4 10, Dennis Gagai 7-13 (6-12) 0-0 20, Joe Zornes 4-11 (2-6) 2-2 12, Derique Bacon 1-1 (0-0) 2-2 4, Nick Collins 1-3 (0-0) 1-2 3, Marcus Williams 0-0 (0-0) 0-0 0, Patrick Kouns 0-0 (0-0) 0-0 0. Totals: 20-48



63. Fouls: 10. Fouled out: None. Rebounds: 9-11=2- (Zornes 6, Gagai 4). Team/dead ball rebounds: 5. Assists: 10 (Waginger 5). Steals: 8 (Waginger 3, Zornes 2). Turnovers: 10. FG% – 41.7. FT% – 80. 3pt% – 32.1.

ASHLAND (7-6):

Drew McDavid 1-1 (0-0) 0-2 2, Adam Howard 8-15 (3-8) 3-4 22, Mike Irwin 1-2 (1-2) 0-0 3, Andrew Hancock 1-4 (0-1) 0-0 2, Brett Miller 2-6 (0-0) 1-2 5, Matt Johnson 6-9 (0-0) 1-2 13, Chad Cook 2-3 (0-0) 0-0 4, Matt Thomas 3-5 (1-1) 0-0 7. Totals: 24-45



58. Fouls: 18. Fouled out: None. Rebounds: 9-20=29 (Johnson 10, Hancock 6, Miller 6). Team/dead ball rebounds: 2. Assists: 12 (Howard 4). Steals: 3 (Cook 2). Turnovers: 17. FG% – 53.3. FT% – 50. 3pt% – 45.5.