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As the third-quarter buzzer sounded Wednesday night during the 30th District Tournament semifinal between the Collins and Spencer County boys’ basketball teams, Chris Gaither sprang from the sidelines.
The Titans coach, in one of his more animated moments, ran toward sophomore point guard Brent Kidwell – who had just assisted Dez Marshall for back-to-back layups – and delivered an aggressive embrace that nearly turned into a headlock.
“He was playing well, and I was just excited that we were making a run,” Gaither said.
That surge boosted Collins’ lead to 11, giving them some breathing room against the tough-to-put-away Bears and, when combined with the Titans’ game-ending 15-3 run, propelled them to a 62-44 victory.
Marshall, the newly anointed 8th Region Player of the Year, had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and junior forward Ralphie Stone, also a member of the all-region team, tallied 18 points and nine rebounds in reserve as Collins (20-7) won its ninth consecutive game.
Senior shooting guard Buddy Johnson, another all-region team member, added 11 points, and Kidwell notched eight assists for the Titans, who’ll play Anderson County (21-3) at 7:45 tonight in the district final.
Regardless of the outcome they’ll play in next week’s 8th Region Tournament at Henry County. Pairings will be announced this weekend.
Collins, last year’s region runner-up, earned its third consecutive postseason trip to New Castle by persevering against Spencer County (15-17).
“That’s a couple of games in a row we’ve grinded out and won,” Gaither said. “It’s not that we played bad, we just didn’t play the tempo we wanted. But that’s fine. We can win these games with a slower tempo.”
The Titans led, 15-11, at the end of the first quarter and 26-21 at halftime, buoyed by 10 points from Stone. Collins shot 42.9 percent (9-of-21) and limited the Bears to 35 percent (7-of-20) in the first half. Spencer County managed to stay within striking distance, though, thanks to its offensive rebounding.
“In the first half they were getting a lot of offensive rebounds,” Marshall said. “But in the second half we did a better job on the boards, and we let our offense come to us and executed our plays.”
The Titans, who beat the Bears, 69-48, on Jan. 23 to start their current winning streak, led, 36-30, late in the third quarter before closing the quarter with a 7-2 surge.
Kidwell hit his only field goal of the game, then Marshall knocked down one of two free throws before Spencer County’s Trent Shields hit a pair of foul shots.
Then on back-to-back plays on back-to-back possessions Kidwell found Marshall for the lay-ins that increased Collins’ lead to 43-32 and prompted Gaither’s bum rush of the sophomore.
“He just got a little excited,” Kidwell said.
“I thought we got stops and Brent did an excellent job coming off the ball screens and finding the open man,” Gaither said. “He was the difference for us there in our run.
“We need Brent to do that for us, and it’s good to see him be successful at that, especially this time of year.”
Spencer County still wouldn’t go away, though. Brennan Smith’s 3-pointer from the corner with 4:05 to play cut Collins’ lead to 47-41.
The Titans, however, put away the game with a 15-3 run. Johnson started the surge with a 3-pointer, on a kick-out from Stone, and junior forward Zac Wiley, who finished with seven points off the bench, ended it with a putback with 12 seconds to play.
Collins shot 44.2 percent (23 for 52) for the game, including 45.2 percent (14 of 31) in the second half.
Spencer senior center Chris Dunbar scored a game-high 19 points. He was 8-for-11 from the field for the Bears, who shot 38.9 percent (14-for-36) and were just 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) from 3-point range.
Led by Marshall and Stone the Titans outrebounded Spencer County, 33-22. They also committed only eight turnovers.
Thanks to its second victory of the season over the Bears, Collins earned a rematch against Anderson County.
The Bearcats beat the Titans, 55-43, back on Jan. 4.
“I think we’ll be better prepared, more mentally focused [this time],” Gaither said.
Anderson County-Collins preview
Anderson County (21-3)
Probable starting lineup:G – Jay Smith, Austin Cummins, Christian Estes; F – Austin Linzy, Ross Cox.
Key reserves:G Kyle Sutherland; G-F Luke Mann; C Darius Harvey; F Tyler Harrod; G Josh Brown; G Zach Carmichael; G Chase Sutherland; F Zach Freeman; G Chris Sea.
Probable starting lineup:G – Brent Kidwell, Buddy Johnson, Lawson Page; F – Dez Marshall; C – Terez Smith.
Key reserves:F Ralphie Stone; F Zac Wiley; F Masai Whyte; G Jayon Winstead; G Cam Wells; C-F Mark Sorrells; G Grant Clarkson; G Deion Cochran; G Paul Miller; G-F Traejon Stone.