LEXINGTON — Make no mistake about it. Eastern coach Jason Couch didn’t think his team played its best basketball against Warren Central in the opening round of the Boys Sweet 16 Wednesday afternoon. After watching George Rogers Clark defeat Oldham County in the tournament opener, he’s also not looking forward to playing the third-ranked Cardinals in the second round Friday afternoon.
“We played each other a couple of times since (Clark coach Scott Humphrey) has been at Clark. I have tremendous respect for his program,” Couch said. “I love his team. I tell others that I wouldn’t trade my team for any other team, but I would think twice about Clark. They have guys that can play, too.
“They run their offense with the (Robbie) Stenzel kid. It seems like he has been there forever. Vinny (Zollo) has the body of a senior in college and (Travis) Purvis and (Corey) Rogers are men among boys inside.”
The Eagles’ only losses this season came to Jeffersontown and Tates Creek. The Commodores are one of five common opponents Eastern and Clark shared, and one of only two that both teams did not defeat. The Eagles own three wins over Ballard, one of the five teams to beat the Cardinals.
The Eagles’ average of 72.2 points per game is second only to Christian County among teams in the Sweet 16 field, and they are outscoring their opponents by more than 20 points per game.
“We have been in a lot of close game situations all year like we were in today,” the Eastern coach said.
“You learn from that. Having said that, I don’t think we played our best game (Wednesday). I know we can play better, and if we want to move on, we will have to play better against Clark.”
Guard Remy Abell and forward Lyonell Gaines, who lead the Eagles in scoring with 16.4 and 16.1 points per game, respectively, were starters on the 2009 team that beat Corbin in the first round and lost to Central in the quarterfinals.
Gaines scored 19 points, Abell 16 and 6-foot-7 center Kameron Woods added 14 points and nine rebounds in the win over Warren Central.
“If we would play 5-on-5, it ought to be one heck of a game,” Couch said. “I know I would pay to see it. We have been in a lot of tough situations all year just to get ready for a game like this.
“You learn from that.”