MARIETTA — Kell overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to beat South Cobb 63-56 in the Region 6AAAAAA tournament semifinals Thursday at Wheeler High School.
The Longhorns now move to the region title game where they will face Wheeler, a team they have lost two twice by a combined margin of four points, in the region title game Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
For much of the first three quarters of the game, it looked like it would be playing in the 3:30 p.m. consolation game instead. South Cobb jumped out to 19-16 lead after the first quarter, and thanks to a 15-1 run to open the second, built a 34-17 lead just before halftime.
Basit Lecky spurred the big lead by scoring 16 of his game-high 19 points in the first half to put the Eagles up 34-21 at the break. Under normal circumstances, Kell coach Jermaine Sellers said he might have jumped on the team in the locker room, instead he offered a calmer message.
“We just had to settle down,” he said. “We were rushing things on the offensive end and we were out of position on defense.”
Having played just one game since Jan. 26 because of COVID-19 protocols, his squad took the instruction to heart and began to erase South Cobb’s lead over the course of 7:30. Najhae Colon got it started with a 3-pointer. Another 3 by Aaron Smith, who finished with 12 points, moments later pulled Kell within nine at 37-28. Another basket and two free throws from Smith pulled the Longhorns within three at 39-36.
Two baskets by Scoot Henderson, who led Kell with 17 points, pulled the Longhorns even, and when Jaylen Harris made a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left in the quarter, they had their first lead at 44-42. Harris finished with 14 points.
Lecky made a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third and Jens Rueckert opened the fourth quarter with a dunk to put South Cobb back up 47-44, but Kell closed the game on a 12-5 run. Dylan Cambridge put the game away with a layup on a perfect pass from Henderson with 36 seconds to play.
Henderson was kept in check for most of the game as the Eagles continuously forced him to give up the basketball, but he more than made up for not being the offensive go-to by playing strong defense and continuously using quick hands to force turnovers or grab important rebounds.
“He’s very unselfish,” Sellers said. ‘He got his teammates involved in the second half and did a good job of picking his spots.”
Travis Burrus had 14 points and Rueckert added seven for South Cobb, which will face Pope in the consolation game.
For the Longhorns, Sellers said Thursday’s game against the Eagles may have been the best thing that could have happened. After playing only one other game in the last 24 days, one that made them overcome adversity may build momentum heading into the title game.
“It was huge having that challenge to keep them sharp,” he said. “We’ll be focused going into (Friday). We know what we’re up against. The team is excited for the game and so am I.”