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A near-perfect finish helped erase four years of futility and frustration for the Shelby County boys’ basketball team Friday night.
A 34-point fourth quarter boosted the Rockets to a 65-53 victory over crosstown-rival Collins in the 30th District Tournament final at Mike Casey Gymnasium.
Not only was it Shelby County’s first district title since the 2009-10 season (a few months before the school split), but it was also the Rockets’ first-ever victory over the Titans.
“For us to win a district championship is big, really big,” said second-year Shelby County Coach Jason Couch, whose team was a flawless 9-for-9 from the field and a near-perfect 16-for-18 from the free-throw line in the final period. “It’s big for the kids, the school and for our community.”
Added junior forward Keenan Cochran: “It means everything. It means a lot to cut the nets. It means more to do it against our crosstown rival.”
Sophomore forward James Gordon scored a team-high 19 points – 12 in the fourth quarter –sophomore point guard Malik Manica added 17, eight in the fourth, and Cochran contributed 11 for the Rockets (16-14), who had lost their first 11 games against Collins by an average of 14.5 points (although by only one and two points this season).
Shelby County trailed, 33-31, entering the fourth quarter before outscoring Collins, 34-20.
“We started hitting shots, we didn’t settle for long threes, and we started getting it inside, and James and Keenan took over,” senior guard Kipp Moore said.
The loss ended the Titans’ 2-year reign as 30th District champ.
“We did exactly what we wanted to for three quarters on the defensive end,” said Collins Coach Chris Gaither, whose team also saw its 6-game winning streak ended. “They just outplayed us in the fourth quarter.”
Junior point guard Brent Kidwell scored a game-high 22 points, and backcourt mate Deion Cochran added 19 for the top-seeded Titans (24-4), who along with the Rockets, advanced to this week’s 8th Region Tournament.
Meanwhile Collins senior forward Ralphie Stone, the 8th Region Player of the Year, was held to a season-low five points. Stone, who averaged 18.2 points per game during the regular season, made just one field goal – a first period 3-pointer – and was 2-for-4 from the free-throw line.
“We always knew where he was,” Moore said of Stone. “Keenan did an excellent job on him, he always had a hand in his face. And we got lucky tonight, he wasn’t hitting.”
Stone’s 3-pointer was one of three by the Titans in the first 5:15 as they jumped out to a 9-3 lead. It was 14-8 early in the second quarter before the teams traded 3-pointers like punches in a 53-second span.
Kidwell hit from downtown with 5:27 to play in the first half, and Manica answered with 23 seconds later. Then Deion Cochran hit a 3 from the corner, off a pass from Kidwell, before Manica made another.
Shelby County shot just 33.3 percent (6-for-18) in the first half and trailed, 21-16.
“Defensively I was extremely pleased with the way we played in the first half,” Couch said. “I thought offensively that we played like a team that was a little apprehensive because it was our first district final.
“I told them, ‘Guys, it’s the district final. Go out there and have fun.’ I thought they just played a whole lot more relaxed on the offensive end in the second half.”
The Titans increased their lead to nine (25-16), despite the fact that Stone briefly left the game after taking a hard fall, early in the third quarter.
But then the Rockets started to take their coach’s advice, going on a 7-1 run (thanks to a layup by Keenan Cochran, a 3-pointer by Moore and a rebound basket by Gordon).
Collins still led, 29-25, late in the period, before Gordon’s 3-pointer capped a 6-2 surge and tied the score at 31 with 1:44 remaining in the period.
Two free throws from reserve guard Jayon Winstead gave the Titans a 2-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
Shelby County, though, dominated the fourth quarter from the get-go, scoring 13 of the 16 points.
The Rockets started with an 8-0 run. Moore hit two free throws, Kyler Dugle scored on a layup (which gave the Shelby County its first lead since 3-0), and Gordon hit back-to-back baskets, the first off a pretty, wrap-around pass from Keenan Cochran.
A 3-pointer by Kidwell interrupted the Rockets’ run, but only briefly. Manica scored inside, Gordon hit two free throws, and Keenan Cochran hit one of two foul shots to push Shelby’s lead to 44-36.
“[In the first half] they did a great job of keeping us out of the lane,” Couch said. “In the second half we started to spread them out a little more, and we were really efficient offensively.”
Deion Cochran’s spin move trimmed the Rockets’ lead to 48-42 with 2:42 to play, but Shelby County responded with a 10-1 run. Gordon hit a shot in the lane, Manica knocked down two free throws and a layup before Collins’ Paul Miller hit one free throw.
Keenan Cochran responded with a layup, off a feed from Manica, before Gordon scored inside, giving Shelby County a 58-43 lead.
“When they started making their run, we didn’t do a good job of playing within our principles,” Gaither said.
The Titans also got away from what had worked for them during the regular season.
“We just weren’t getting it inside like we normally do,” Miller said.
Of Collins’ 16 field goals, nine were 3-pointers. The Rockets’ defense may have had something to due with that, though.
“We kept switching defenses,” Moore said. “We didn’t want them to get comfortable doing anything, because they’re lethal when they get comfortable.”
Shelby County hit seven of eight free throws in the final 1:01 to set off a celebration on its home court.
“It feels amazing,” Moore said afterward. “We put in a lot of hard work [for this].”
Moore added nine points for the Rockets, who shot 53.8 percent (21-for-39) from the field as they won for the seventh time in their past eight games.
Collins will play in the first game of the 8th Region Tournament at Henry County, taking on 32nd District champion Grant County (15-13) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Shelby County plays Simon Kenton (13-13), the 32nd District runner-up, at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
All-tournament team - Darius Harvey & Luke Mann (Anderson County); Kynan Smith & Jamal Downs (Spencer County); Deion Cochran, Brent Kidwell & Ralphie Stone (Collins) and Kipp Moore, James Gordon, Keenan Cochran & Malik Manica (Shelby County).