With many in the Kentucky high school basketball world seemingly thinking they had no chance, not one iota of hope and would just be a one-and-done team, the McCracken County Mustangs pulled off what many in Rupp Arena considered to be an upset by knocking Wayne County out of the KHSAA Boys Sweet 16 State Tournament with their 81-74 first-round victory Thursday afternoon.
The Mustangs, who are making their initial appearance in the Sweet 16 in the school's first year of existence, never trailed, led by as many as 15 points with more than a minute left and ended up setting a Boys Sweet 16 state tournament record by hitting 34 free throws, breaking the mark of 33 made by Russell in 1972 and by Laurel County in 1982.
They just felt like things could and would go their way Thursday, and they did.
"We knew we had a tough game and at 31-1 Wayne County is pretty good," McCracken County coach Burlin Brower said. "I've just had a real good feeling and especially the last three or four days that we practiced. The kids take such a businesslike approach to practice and I can just tell that with everything they did in practice that they just weren't happy to be here. We really had a good game plan and I have to credit my assistant coaches, because they've done a great job researching and getting us prepared to take them out of what they liked to do."
The Mustangs (25-8) also thought the support from the nearly 800 students in attendance, from the pep band and hundreds of other fans that came to Lexington were an integral part of the victory.
"We thought it was pretty big to have a lot of our fans here, because you only get one time to make a first impression so we really wanted to win this one," Kam Chumbler said. "We knew it would be a tough one, but we just came out and handled the pressure. And with our students behind us, they became a big part of the game and helped us, too."
The Mustangs move on to the Sweet 16 quarterfinals and will play Fourth Region champ Bowling Green, a 65-58 winner over 14th Region's Knott County, at 5:30 p.m. today in Rupp Arena.
McCracken County ended Thursday with four players in double figures. Jared Burnett led with 23 points, Caleb Stonecipher added 20, Chumbler came through with 19 and Jason Armstrong chipped in 11. They also had Bryce Rodgers pull down 10 rebounds and Chumbler and Stonechiper grab six each. The Mustangs outrebounded the Cardinals 41-32.
Wayne County (31-2) had Trey Blevins score 24 points, Peyton Woods contribute 17 and Jason Perkins end with 13. The Cardinals had three players foul out - Woods, Perkins and Corey Stearns.
Stonecipher was named Player of the Game thanks to his hitting 5 of 10 from the floor, 4 of 7 from the 3-point line and going a perfect 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
Stonecipher's line and particularly his free-throw shooting fell right in place with a McCracken County team that shot 51.2 percent (21 of 41) for the game, including hitting 57.1 percent (12 of 21) in the second half, made 45.5 percent (5-of-11) from three and sank 79.1 percent (34 of 43) at the charity stripe.
What also was critical in the victory was the 12-2 lead the Mustangs jumped out on Chumbler's layup with 5:13 left in the first quarter and their going 19 of 24 from the free-throw line in the game's final 6:45
"The best thing we did was get off to a good start," Brower said. "That was the thing that really got our foothold into the game. We made some shots early and we did a good job defensively by holding them shooting just under 26 percent in the first half. So I have to credit to our defense. I think Jason Armstrong did a great job on Peyton Woods and we also were able to get out in transition and get some easy buckets."
The closest the Cardinals got in the second half was two points twice, 36-34 with 6:51 left in the third and 40-38 with 5:35 to go in the period.
They cut McCracken County's advantage to 62-55 with 5:19 to play on a Woods three.
But the Mustangs answered with a 19-11 run and took their biggest lead of the game, 81-66, on a Chumbler free throw with 1:07 to play.
Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.