Listerman's speech to the fans, especially the students, that came to watch the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (14-0 overall) concluded another fun night as the dazzling Bluebirds recorded a huge 71-58 win over the host Newport Wildcats (9-5). Highlands, ranked ninth in the first Associated Press poll of the season, moved to 2-0 in 36th District play and remained one of four undefeated teams in the state along with John Hardin (14-0), Ashland Blazer (15-0) and Elizabethtown (11-0).
Things for the Bluebirds started again with junior point guard Sam Vinson. Vinson consistently displayed the poise and strength of a hawk, an eagle and a falcon rolled into one with the the way he dribbled around defenders to make the right pass or move and finish at the rim. Vinson came into the game averaging 25.8 points per game, and scored 26 making 11-of-17 shots and 4-of-6 free throws to go with seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and one blocked shot.
"Early on, their defense was really, really good," Listerman said.
"We don't normally shoot real well down here so I kind of expected this type of game. They were very patient on offense and really dictated the tempo. Once we were able to get a couple of turnovers, we got rolling sort of after that. The timeout I called in the first quarter was to pick up our defensive pressure. Our kids responded and I'm so proud of them. Sam is a special type player. He led us. Your best player in big games has to step up and be the best player and Sam was (Tuesday). When you get into these rivalry games, you just want to come out with a win. It doesn't matter if it's one, two or whatever it takes. Our kids really handled the situations down the stretch."
Newport held the Bluebirds' second-leading scorer in junior Luke Muller scoreless. But other picked up the slack. Sophomore forward Oliver Harris scored 16 and senior guard Hunter Ahlfeld scored 10 with sophomore guard Zach Barth scoring nine. Brass and Ahlfeld added three assists each. Highlands outscored Newport, 31-5 off the bench.
"It has been a huge key to our success because Coach (Listerman) talks all the time about getting good shots and turning them into great shots," Harris said. "That's been a key part of our offense. We try to play our hardest every time we hit the floor no matter who we're playing or what we're doing."
Highlands made 27-of-53 shots for 51 percent including 6-of-15 from three-point range for 40 percent and 11-of-15 free throws. The Bluebirds also had 30 rebounds, 17 fouls, nine assists, nine turnovers, two blocked shots and seven steals.
"We just have to continue to play free," Listerman said. "I think our kids are very good at playing loose and they have a great demeanor. We have to continue to do that just focusing on the simple things and the day-to-day things like we've done so far and not get caught up in record and everything else and just play the game that's in front of us."
Newport made 23-of-53 shots for 44 percent including 3-of-11 from three-point range for 27 percent and 9-of-17 free throws for 53 percent. The Wildcats had 35 rebounds, 15 fouls, 11 assists, 13 turnovers, one blocked shot and four steals.
Senior guard DaeShawn White led Newport with 25 points and five assists and senior guard Cameron Daniels scored 13. The Wildcats won the offensive rebounding battle, 18-11, but only scored seven second-chance points to five for the Bluebirds.
The game saw five lead changes and three ties. The Bluebirds led 31-29 at halftime and 45-40 entering the fourth quarter. The Bluebirds had 1.22 points per possession to 1.05 for the Wildcats and 1.18 points per shot to .95 for the hosts.
Highlands pulled away in the fourth quarter. The largest lead for the Bluebirds came at 69-54.
"We just work real hard in practice and we worked real hard in the off-season. A lot more guys have gotten more athletic, which helps on defense," Brass said. "We just play together and trust each other. We played really good help defense. We had to stay wide and not chop down on them. You have to challenge every shot, not send them to the line and make everything difficult."
Highlands is 4-0 in 9th Region play. The Bluebirds travel to Conner (7-5) on Thursday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.