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Highlands defeats McCracken County to make first semifinal since Lorenzen/Smith ’97 team

Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson

Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson

Luke Muller scored 29 points, Sam Vinson added 15 points, five rebounds, eight assists, and two steals, and the Highlands Bluebirds held off the McCracken County Mustangs to win 63-53 in the nightcap of the Sweet 16 quarterfinals.

Muller, a senior, came into the game rated as one of the top 3-point shooters (45.1% on 3.5 makes per game) in the state. Anyone that watched tonight’s game could see why. The sharpshooter finished 7-for-9 from deep, only two shy of tying Chris Lofton’s record of nine made triples in the 2003 finals against Louisville Ballard.

Highlands got 3-pointers from William Herald and Muller on their first two possessions and raced out to an 11-5 lead. Ian Hart and Jack McCune hit 3-pointers late in the first quarter to pull McCracken County within three, 16-13.

McCune opened the second half scoring to make it 16-15, but Highlands answered with a Muller 3-ball along with a Zach Barth steal and bucket to go up by six. The Mustangs went on a 6-0 run to tie the score at 21 thanks to two Brant Brower buckets and two Hart free throws.

That’s when Sam Vinson, an NKU commit, had this sweet crossover that led to a bucket.

Muller continued his hot shooting with two more 3-pointers to help give the Bluebirds a 31-26 halftime lead. He scored 12 first-half points on 4-for-5 shooting from downtown. The Mustangs shot 63% in the first half to stay within striking distance.

Brower and Hart hit back-to-back 3s to open the second half, but Highlands countered with a killer 5-point trip. Vinson made a layup, got fouled and missed the free throw, but McCracken knocked the ball out of bounds. Muller drilled a 3-pointer to cap off the 5-point trip and put the Bluebirds up 36-32. Muller hit another long ball on the next possession to push the lead to 39-32. After a Dumas 3-pointer, Muller hit yet another 3-ball, his seventh of the game, to make it 42-35.

Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson

Vinson and Herald added 3-pointers to help Highlands build a 50-41 lead late in the 3rd quarter. Dumas countered with a bucket and an old-fashioned 3-point play to bring the Mustangs within four. They had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Hart misfired on a 3 and Dumas missed a contested shot near the rim.

Muller made a pair of free throws to extend the Highlands lead to 52-64 with 5:27 remaining. Hart hit a difficult jump shot to pull McCracken within four. Brauer got a layup and transition to make it 52-50 McCracken.

The Mustangs had a chance to tie the game, but Vinson stole the ball from Dumas and then hit two free throws to extend the lead to 54-50 with 2:52 left.

The Bluebirds got another steal, but Highlands missed the front end of the bonus. Brauer missed a contested jumper and fouled out on the rebound.  Muller cashed in the two free throws to give the Bluebirds a six-point lead and they made enough free throws late to punch their ticket to tomorrow’s semifinals.

Hart finished with 16 points and six boards for McCracken County while Dumas added 14 points. The Mustangs led for only nine seconds. They shot 57% but committed 14 turnovers. McCracken County’s season ends with a 23-7 record. It was good to see them get back to Rupp Arena after winning the region tournament last year but having the Sweet 16 canceled due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

The Bluebirds, tied for #2 in the KSR Prep Rankings, are in the semifinals for the first time since Jared Lorenzen and Derek Smith had them there in 1997.  They will play #8 Ashland Blazer tomorrow at 2:00 P.M. in what should be a high-scoring contest featuring two of the best shooting teams in the state.

Highlands defeated Ashland 84-75 in the first game of the season. #1 Elizabethtown plays #2 Ballard at 11:00 A.M. tomorrow in the first semifinal. The finals are scheduled for tomorrow night at 8:00 P.M. All games will be held at Rupp Arena. Credit Highlands for bringing a loud, festive cheering section and a good band as well!

Article written by Troy Howell

Follow me on twitter @ teeroyhowell

3 Comments for Highlands defeats McCracken County to make first semifinal since Lorenzen/Smith ’97 team



  1. JoeMoney333
    10:07 pm April 2, 2021 Permalink

    Go Kevin! Go Highlands!



  2. 2andToodleLoo
    7:33 am April 3, 2021 Permalink

    I am not making fun of the coach at all but what in the hell is he wearing on his head?



  3. mashman 93
    9:26 am April 3, 2021 Permalink

    The Paducah boys were not up for the challenge I guess.