In what was arguably the most thrilling game over the Sweet 16 this far, Ballard was able to fend off a relentless Bowling Green squad down the stretch.
The No. 2 ranked Ballard Bruins prevented a comeback effort from the No. 5 Bowling Green Purples, sealing the win by a final score of 61-52 in the quarterfinals of the 2021 KHSAA Boy’s Sweet 16 Tournament at Rupp Arena. Ballard moves onto the semifinal round where they’ll face top-seed Elizabethtown on Saturday morning at 11 a.m.
FINAL: Ballard – 61 Bowling Green – 53
One of the more fun games we've had so far, but Ballard was the better team almost the entire game. Bruins onto the semifinals. Gabe Sisk (@gabesisk21) drops 22 points for Ballard.
— Zack Geoghegan (@ZGeogheganKSR) April 2, 2021
Early on, it felt like we might be in store for another blowout matchup. Right out of the gate, Ballard struck first, second, and third. A 3-pointer from Bruins’ star Gabe Sisk put Ballard up 7-0 before Kentucky Football commit, Jordan Dingle, finally put points on the board for Bowling Green.
But Ballard wasn’t done setting the tone. The lead ballooned to a 14-2 advantage in favor of the Bruins as Sisk was up to 10 points while Bowling Green missed seven of its first eight shot attempts. Ballard was on another 7-0 scoring run until Isaiah Mason tipped in a shot at the rim for the Purples. From there, Bowling Green found its momentum.
Bowling Green rattled off six straight points that forced Ballard into a timeout. Out of the break, Purples point guard Turner Buttry connected on a hug triple at the first-quarter buzzer that put his squad down just 14-11 after eight minutes.
— Troy Howell (@teeroyhowell) April 2, 2021
With both sides settled in, it became a back-and-forth affair. Ballard scored first to begin the second quarter as the Bruins and Bowling Green began to trade baskets every time up the floor. The Purples eventually took a 19-16 lead off of a Mason triple but Sisk answered right back to tie it at 19. Bowling Green rattled off a 19-7 run after trailing 14-2 as they tied the game up at 21-21 with 2:35 left in the first half.
Great drive and dunk by ?@khayden0? for ?@Ballard_Hoops? they are tied 21 all with Bowling Green in 2nd quarter. ?@BluegrassBball? ?@KySportsRadio? ?@DrewFranklinKSR? ?@ZGeogheganKSR? pic.twitter.com/QFWy3wLaen
— Troy Howell (@teeroyhowell) April 2, 2021
As the game rolled along, Sisk would nail his fourth 3-pointer of the half to put Ballard ahead 24-21. A couple of minutes later, an even bigger triple from Bowling Green’s Willie Wilson cut the Bruins lead down to two at 28-26, but a jumper from Ballard’s Keno Hayden gave his squad a 30-26 advantage at the intermission.
Ballard closed the first half connecting on six of its last eight shots while Bowling Green hit four of its last five. Both sides were forced into nine turnovers apiece, but the difference came down to the points scored off of those miscues–Ballard had 14 points off turnovers while Bowling Green sat on six.
6-foot-10 center Maker Bar opened up the third quarter for Ballard, scoring the first five points, including a make from beyond the arc. A 35-26 Bruins lead was cut down to six after another much-needed 3-pointer for Bowling Green, this one courtesy of Jaxson Banks. However, Ballard pushed its lead back to nine at 39-30 midway through the third quarter.
Bowling Green responded with an 8-2 run to wind down the period, but Sisk came up clutch with a layup that extended the Ballard lead back to 43-38 heading into the final eight minutes of action. And as soon as the fourth quarter got rolling, Ballard steadily increased its lead.
A made jumper from Bowling Green’s Jacobi Huddlestone put the Purples down two buckets, 49-45, but as he’d been doing all game long, Sisk always had an answer. He converted on a fastbreak layup at the three-minute mark after both sides went nearly two minutes without scoring a point. Ballard kept applying the pressure and eventually took a commanding 54-45 lead with 1:45 left in the contest.
The Bruins would push its advantage to double-digits on multiple occasions in the closing 90 seconds before settling on a 61-53 victory. Sisk was the leading scorer for Ballard, finishing with 22 points on 9-19 shooting while Hayden and Chaunte Marrero contributed 14 and 13 points, respectively. The Bruins shot 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc.
“Gabe’s demeanor is so calm, you can’t tell if he’s high or low, he has such an even keel to the game of basketball,” Ballard head coach Chris Renner said after the win. “It’s such a good approach, it really is. Gabe has the ability to do a lot of things.”
For Bowling Green, the Purples only shot 32 percent overall and 19 percent from deep while turning the ball over 16 times as well, which Ballard converted into 19 points. Buttry ended with 11 points, four rebounds, and six assists for Bowling Green while Jacobi Huddlestone, who was named to the Sweet 16 All-Tournament Team, added 12 points and seven boards. Mason led the way for the Purples, posting 17 points and 14 rebounds but on an 8-23 shooting clip.