As the ball dropped on 2017 and people across the country ushered in the new year, very few had more to celebrate than the Knox Central Panthers who just 24 hours earlier had knocked off Corbin to win the Cumberland Falls Invitation Tournament, one of Kentucky’s premier events.
Knox Central stunned a standing-room only crowd with a knockout blow to the defending champion Redhounds, 73-61, in a game that featured more fireworks than the 4th of July.
The championship puts Knox Central’s name on the wall of champions in Corbin’s historic gym for the first time since 1994.
It was the second high-profile championship won by the Panthers in December after they also won the prestigious WYMT Mountain Basketball Classic title two weeks earlier.
“This is a great accomplishment for us,” said Knox Central senior Dane Imel. “It goes up on this wall and says Knox Central Panthers, 2017 Cumberland Falls Invitational Champions. And that’s a great feeling, honestly.”
Junior Nick Martin had a very similar sentiment.
“We’ve not put our name on the wall here in 23 years, so its an awesome feeling,” he said. “Especially against these guys.”
Senior guard Markelle Turner, who dominated with an MVP effort of 24 points despite being double teamed most of the night, agreed.
“It feels great. It’s an honor for us to beat a very good team like Corbin on their home court,” he said.
Kevionte Turner, a sophomore, echoed his brother’s statement.
“This is my first year playing and it feels amazing,” he said. “It will always feel good to beat Corbin.”
Knox Central scored the first points of the game and led for more than 15 minutes of the first half on the way to a double-digit halftime advantage, 33-23.
Corbin did come back and take the lead for a very brief moment in the third quarter before Knox Central turned it on in the fourth quarter and outscored the host team 24-15 over the final eight minutes.
Knox Central Coach Tony Patterson said the way his team handled themselves in such a high-pressure situation was real pleasing.
“It feels great to win it,” he said. “But I’m most pleased with our kids’ efforts. We’ve not played a good game since WYMT. So I got on them pretty hard last night and this morning in shoot-around and I think they took it to heart and are starting to get it. We’re changing the culture at Knox Central that it isn’t good enough just to get second or third. We want to win these things. And I feel blessed to be part of it.”
While most eyes in the gym were on Corbin’s Andrew Taylor, who will go down as a legend in Kentucky as one of only 33 players to ever score more than 3,000 career points, it was Knox Central’s Markelle Turner who stole the show and was the human highlight reel. He made plays all night long that kept fans amazed and on the end of their seats.
“He’s a stud isn’t he?” asked Imel on his superstar teammate. “Markelle’s tough to guard. They split us up in practice and I have to guard him a lot. I’m getting use to it, but he’s still tough to stop and I’ve been trying for two years.”
“Markelle did a great job tonight of running the team,” said Patterson. “He has a tendency to try to make a 10-point play because he is so talented. But tonight he made the simple plays. And he is so much better when he just relaxes and makes the plays.”
Following M. Turner’s 24 points was Jaylen Adams with 22, Imel with 13, K. Turner 8, Martin with four and Zack Patterson with two.
In round two of the tourney, Knox Central beat North Hardin 77-65 behind M. Turner’s 32 point performance. Nick Martin was next with 19, followed by K. Turner with 10.
Imel contributed nine, followed by Adams with five and Dalton Elliott two.
In opening-round action, the Panthers topped Sheldon Clark 82-70. Nick Martin led the way with a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds. M. Turner was the top scorer with 21 points, while Adams added 16 and K. Turner 12.
Imel contributed six, Jermel Carton five, and Patterson two to round out the scoring for the tournament champions.
(Photo by Scott Warren, Barbourville Mountain Advocate)