Jaxon Watts’ game-winner gives Paintsville its first 15th Region title since 2008

Published: Mar. 27, 2021 at 11:27 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 27, 2021 at 11:28 PM EDT
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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - Jaxon Watts only scored two points in Saturday night’s boys’ 15th Region championship game, but his two points were the only ones scored in overtime and were the difference for Paintsville. Watts’ put back as time expired gave the Tigers a 48-46 win over Johnson Central and the boys’ 15th Region crown for the first time since 2008.

“That’s the stuff you dream about. That’s the stuff you sit at home and think about all week before you play this tournament, and it just so happened to fall upon me and I’m blessed to get the opportunity,” Watts said about his game-winner.

“I can’t even say - I don’t even know what to say right now,” Senior Guard Braxton Tharp said after the win.

“I don’t know, I can’t remember, but I know I was happy. 13 years is a long time. You know I feel like we’ve been working for this for a long time,” Paintsville head coach Landon Slone said on his reaction after the win. “This is my fifth year, and you know we’ve spent every day talking about his right here and going to Rupp Arena and getting a chance at winning a few games down there.”

The Tigers and Golden Eagles went back and forth in this one, with Johnson Central taking a 25-20 lead into the half. In the third quarter, tournament MVP Colby Fugate got going for the Tigers, helping them cut the lead all the way to two before Ryleh McKenzie’s put back gave Johnson Central a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter was filled with big shots. Connor Fugate gave Paintsville a 40-38 lead before two Isaiah May free throws and a strong take from Cory VanHoose gave the Golden Eagles a 42-40 lead. Colby Fugate answered with another bucket before a high-arcing Grant Rice floater and a couple more free throws gave Johnson Central a 46-42 lead. Paintsville had to battle back again through Colby Fugate, who with less than 20 seconds left and the Tigers down 46-44, drew a foul and knocked down two free throws that would send the game into overtime.

Neither team could get a bucket to fall in overtime before Watts’ bucket at the buzzer.

The last time the Tigers went to Rupp Arena in 2008, head coach Landon Slone and one of his assistants, JD VanHoose, were on the court for the Tigers.

“I can remember in 2008 walking off this floor with Landon Slone and JD VanHoose, who’s one of his assistants, and of course the older fella like me that sits on the bench with them is one of my assistants in coach David VanHoose. I’m proud of them,” Bill Mike Runyon said, the mayor of Paintsville and coaching legend. “They’ve proven to people that they know what they’re doing.”

The Tigers now turn their attention to the first round of the Sweet 16. They take on 12th Region winners, Boyle County, who defeated Lincoln County, 54-48 on Saturday. The Rebels come into the contest 21-4 on the year. The two will “flip-off” on Thursday, April 1 at 5 p.m.

Johnson Central ends the year with a 21-4 record. They swept the KABC Awards for Region Player and Coach of the Year. Isaiah May and head coach Tommy McKenzie took home those awards in the 15th Region.

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