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Highlands wins first-ever Sweet 16 title, smacks Elizabethtown 79-60

Les Nicholson Photography

Les Nicholson Photography

For the first time in the history of the Sweet 16, Highlands is the Kentucky state champion.

In a matchup between the state’s top two squads, the No. 2 ranked Highlands Bluebirds (28-5) ran away with the 2021 KHSAA Boy’s Sweet 16 Tournament against the No. 1 Elizabethtown Panthers (21-3) by a final score of 79-60 inside of Rupp Arena on Saturday evening. Highlands established a 47-26 lead at the halftime break before cruising to the program’s first-ever Sweet 16 title.

The first few minutes were not a preview of what was to come. Both sides were dealing with the classic title game jitters as Highlands was missing open looks while Elizabethtown was uncharacteristically turning the ball over. E-Town’s Camden Williams got the action rolling, scoring the first basket of the game before Sam Vinson struck first for Highlands. The Bluebirds missed its first four shot attempts from behind the arc before Luke Muller finally connected on the fifth attempt.

Following Highlands’ first made triple, Williams came right back with a score of his own that put the Panthers down 7-4 three minutes into the contest. A pair of layups and another 3-pointer from Highlands resulted in a 7-0 run that grew its lead to double-digits. Elizabethtown head coach James Haire was forced into calling a timeout with his team looking a bit sluggish out of the gate.

Out of the break, both sides traded a couple of buckets before Zachary Barth drilled another 3-pointer for the Bluebirds that gave them a 19-8 advantage. However, E-Town countered right back with a mini 5-0 run that trimmed the deficit down to 19-13, but the momentum shifted right back in favor of Highlands. They closed out the first quarter with four straight points to control a 23-13 lead heading into the second frame. E-Town turned the ball over six times throughout the opening period.

Perhaps the fatigue of playing four games in four days began to catch up with Elizabethtown, which primarily plays its five starters the overwhelming majority of the team’s minutes. But shots they had been making routinely in the first few games were falling short on Saturday night. Highlands scored the first four points of the second quarter and pushed its lead to 27-13.

Elizabethtown answered with a triple from Williams but Highlands responded with a 3-pointer of its own just 20 seconds later. Throughout the rest of the half, this would become a trend. Vinson was able to secure a steal in the backcourt for an easy layup as the Bluebirds broke out another 5-0 run.

Les Nicholson Photography

With four minutes left in the second frame, Elizabethtown rattled off four quick points courtesy of Khia and Kam Sherrard, but Highlands drilled a 3-pointer the very next possession. The Panthers swiftly added four more consecutive points but it was all for naught as Muller hit another massive triple. A Kam Sherrard bucket at the two-minute mark put Elizabethtown down 38-26, but Highlands responded once again with a shot from deep as Leyton Read dropped in another 3.

William Herald would tack on two more 3-pointers for Highlands in the final 45 seconds of the half to extend its lead to a dangerous 47-26 advantage at the break. The Bluebirds shot 6-8 from downtown in the second quarter and all five starters scored at least six points.

The third quarter was the closest of the night so far in terms of point production–both sides added 19 points apiece–but Highlands was content with keeping pace against Elizabethtown as the Bluebirds consistently held a 20-25 point lead. If anything, E-Town did a much better job of limiting the Highlands offense, but they couldn’t convert as they needed on the other end. To close out the third period, the Bluebirds endured a stretch of four minutes without a field goal, yet still led by 21 going into the final eight minutes.

All Highlands had to do was avoid a total collapse and the title was theirs. And without much issue, they steered clear of any potential Elizabethtown comeback. Points were rare to come by in the fourth quarter, but the Bluebirds did more than enough to keep themselves well beyond striking distance en route to the school’s first state title. It was only the second time that Highlands has made the title bout, the first coming back in 1997 when former Kentucky Football Wildcats Jared Lorenzen and Derek Smith were suiting up in basketball jerseys.

Northern Kentucky University commit and Highlands senior guard, Sam Vinson, was named the Tournament MVP while Zachary Barth and Luke Muller were named to the All-Tournament Team. For Elizabethtown, Alandre Murphy, Kam Sherrard, and Jaquias Franklin were all named to the All-Tournament Team.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Recruiting reporter for KSR. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR

6 Comments for Highlands wins first-ever Sweet 16 title, smacks Elizabethtown 79-60

  1. Irish son
    10:28 pm April 3, 2021 Permalink

    I was at the game when Jared and Derek got beat by Louisville eastern for the title

  2. UKgrad80
    11:45 pm April 3, 2021 Permalink

    Yes I was also there I graduated from Eastern it was a night I will never forget!

  3. Cletis75
    1:49 am April 4, 2021 Permalink

    How bout them bluebirds! Etown really looked uncomfortable with the pace. Highlands really did a great job of not letting them go on a big run. They really hit some big shots from 3 every time Etown started to put a run together. When everyone was missing shots at the beginning of the game, I thought Etown’s athleticism would be the difference, but Highland’s leaders really stepped up and got them calmed down and in a groove. I don’t know if it was the coaching or the leadership of the older players, but Highlands definitely looked a lot more mature than the panthers.

  4. JoeMoney333
    4:07 am April 4, 2021 Permalink

    Another Listerman coaching Legend in the making!

  5. DoubleB65
    8:47 am April 4, 2021 Permalink

    But …but…but didn’t I read here the other day that Etown was the best team left in the field? I believe that’s a quote. The best team left in the field might have lost by two or three but they wouldn’t have got blown out.

  6. Cletis75
    10:27 pm April 4, 2021 Permalink

    They do when they miss a lot of wide open looks, and the other team is filling up the cup. Even the greatest teams and player have a bad day. I think the pressure got to them when they got down early. They looked to be forcing everything offensively. Next year, get the service that lets you watch all of the games. My buddy did this year and it was great.