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The Shelby County boys’ basketball team is going back to the 8th Region Tournament.
The Rockets earned that right with a 77-57 rout of Spencer County on Wednesday night in a 30th District Tournament semifinal at Mike Casey Gymnasium.
Sophomore forward James Gordon scored a game-high 25 points, and junior forward Kemar Mason added 18 in reserve as Shelby County secured its first berth in the regional tournament since the 2009-10 season, right before the high school split.
“I’m just so happy for the kids,” second-year Rockets Coach Jason Couch said. “They just got beat down there for a couple years. For them to have the resilience to continue to buy in is special.
“No matter what happens from here on in these guys will always be known for getting the Rockets back to the regional tournament. It will be special for them.”
Shelby County will try for its first district title since 2010 as well at 7:45 tonight against crosstown-rival Collins (24-3), the two-time defending champion.
Wednesday night’s victory also boosted Shelby County (15-14), which started the season 0-8, above the .500 mark for the first time since the split.
The Rockets never trailed in their second meeting of the season against the Bears.
Leading, 8-6, (behind six points from Gordon) late in the first quarter, Shelby County went on a 11-0 run to take control. It began with Kipp Moore’s jumper with 1:15 to play in the first period and ended with Malik Manica’s basket in the lane 43 seconds into the second.
Spencer County trimmed the Rockets’ lead to 28-22 late in the half before Shelby closed the period with a 10-3 run. Gordon scored five points in that spurt and also assisted a 3-pointer by Kyler Dugle, as the Rockets led 38-25 at intermission.
“We did a great job of moving the ball in the first half,” said Couch, whose team had beaten Spencer, 73-52, Feb. 11 at Casey Gym.
Gordon, who was named to the all-region team last week, finished the first half with 17 points against the Bears’ zone defense.
“That first half our guys did such a great job of finding him in that zone,” Couch said. “And he did a great job of shooting it when he needed to and passing it when he needed to.”
Spencer County (8-20) scored the first six points of the second half forcing Couch to call a 30-second timeout.
The Rockets responded with an 8-0 run before the Bears did the same.
Shelby County, however, outscored Spencer, 8-2, to close the quarter.
Mason scored off a rebound, then converted a 3-point play after being fouled while making a jumper.
“It was good, we started out slow in the second half and he came in and got us back into it,” Gordon said of Mason, who had nine points in the period.
Jamal Downs hit two free throws for the Bears with 4.1 seconds left, but the Rockets didn’t waste those final seconds. Gordon passed ahead to Dugle, who buried a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer to boost the Rockets’ lead to 54-41.
“I felt good that we had overcome that shot in the mouth they gave us in the third quarter,” Couch said.
Mason scored on a finger roll 14 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it a 15-point lead. Shelby County cruised from there.
The Rockets shot 56.1 percent (32-for-57) from the field, led by Gordon, who was 11-for-16, and Mason, who was 8-of-9.
Dugle and junior forward Keenan Cochran added 10 points apiece, and Manica added nine.
Shelby County will meet the Titans for the third time this season. Collins won the first two meetings by a total of three points – 50-48 on Dec. 13 and 57-56 Feb. 8.
“That’ll be fun now that you know that you’re playing at Henry County [site of the 8th Region Tournament] next week,” Couch said.