The Ashland University men's basketball team never trailed as it cruised to an 89-64 win over Kentucky State on Wednesday (Nov. 22) afternoon in the final game of the AU Thanksgiving Classic, presented by Hampton Inn & Suites, at Kates Gymnasium.
"We're happy with where we're at right now, one possession away from being undefeated," said AU head coach John Ellenwood. "That's a good feeling. With all the injuries and everything that happened, if you'd have told me we'd be 4-1 at this time, I'd have been happy with this."
The Eagles (4-1) raced to a 6-0 lead with a couple field goals by senior forward Wendell Davis and never looked back.
Following a one-point setback to Indianapolis the day before, the Eagles imprinted their stamp on Wednesday's game on the defensive end and in the post. Ashland held a 46-27 advantage on the glass, collecting 15 offensive rebounds, while holding the Thorobreds (0-5) to 41 percent (25-for-61) shooting.
"They're a very athletic team, but we were able to keep our guys in front," said sophomore center Drew Noble. "We contested their shots without fouling and forced them to take tough 2s."
Noble finished with 22 points, nine boards and three steals while Davis led the team in scoring with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists. Davis moved into 10th place on Ashland's all-time scoring list in the game and now has 1,460 points in his career.
The Eagles built their lead to 26-11 with 8:40 to play in the first half after back-to-back 3-pointers by Davis and redshirt-freshman guard Aaron Thompson spurred a 6-0 run. Ashland led by a 44-30 margin at halftime.
Ashland pushed its lead to as many as 29 in the second half on Thompson's mid-range jumper with seven minutes to play.
The Eagles were relentless attacking in the paint as Noble, Davis and senior forward Marsalis Hamilton combined to shoot 20-for-21 from the free throw line. Overall, the Eagles connected at an 89.7 percent (26-for-29) from the charity stripe.
"I'll take that all day," said Ellenwood. "It's different guys getting to the line. We have to continue to do that."
Ashland also finished with 15 assists on 28 field goals against 14 turnovers. It was the first time since the season opener AU has finished with a positive assist-turnover ratio.
"We did a better job moving the basketball," said Ellenwood. "I think we did a better job with the scouting report defending them. We still have a ways to go, but guys are starting to step it up. This was a step in the right direction.
"Aaron Thompson had a great game, Drew had a great game. Wendell and Ben Haraway did a good job controlling the tempo. Marsalis played a good game. Peyton Bennington did a great job defensively. Joey Zahn did a good job on both ends as well. I'm proud of all those guys."
The Eagles now head into the Thanksgiving break on a positive note, having won four of their five nonconference, in-region games to start the season.
"We know what's coming up," said Ellenwood. "We've got two ranked teams in the GLIAC on the road and that's going to be a huge challenge for us. The Carlow game is going to be a test for us to get ready for those games."
The Eagles play one final nonconference tune-up before the conference season begins. That will be Sunday (Nov. 26) at noon against Carlow at Kates Gymnasium.