The winner of the 53rd District championship would not be decided until well into the final minute of the game on Friday, as Knott County Central just barely managed to hold off a Cordia team that clawed its way back from a 19-point first-half deficit.
Senior guard Emmanuel Owootoah got Cordia on the board first with two free throws to put the Lions up 2-0. Neither team would score again until Cordia’s A.J. Tagaloa drained a triple at the 3:41 mark of the first period.
Knott Central quickly evened the score with buckets by sophomores Simon Christon and Camron Justice. The Patriots would gain the lead at the 1:36 mark, and end the first period ahead 13-5.
Tagaloa opened the second quarter with a score, but the period would belong largely to Knott Central. Hampered with poor shooting in the first half, Cordia connected on only 29 percent of their shots. The Patriots, meanwhile, would eventually build a 19-point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the half.
The Lions battled back, however, finally cutting the lead to 12 off a 3-pointer from freshman A.J. Chisolm before the Patriots took a 39-27 lead into halftime.
Despite a double-digit deficit in the second half, Cordia’s pressure defense allowed them to remain in the game and eventually take the lead with only a few minutes remaining. Cordia forced several turnovers they would convert into points, and a score by Chisolm at the 4:45 mark in the third quarter cut the Knott Central lead to 41-33. A three from Tagaloa less then a minute later cut the lead to five.
The teams would trade baskets for the next few minutes as Knott Central would stretch the lead, but Cordia would counter with a small run. The Patriots ended the quarter ahead 49-45.
Both teams maintained their pace in the final period, and Knott Central would later hold a 59-54 lead with 2:40 remaining in the game. A.J. Chisolm drew a foul driving to the basket, and made one of the two free throws. A triple from Owootoah only seconds later cut the Knott Central lead to one. At the 1:34 mark Cordia took the lead at 60-59 for the first time since early in the first quarter, but it would be the last time the Lions would score.
Only seconds later, sophomore Chance Cornett connected on one of two free throws to tie the game at 60, and the Patriots would go ahead off of a Camron Justice free throw. Knott Central added five more points before the buzzer sounded, and took the 66-60 victory.
The win made the third straight 53rd District title for coach B.B. King, who noted that Cordia’s pressure was taking its toll on his team late in the game, but they were able to continue to fight and hold on for the win.
“To be honest I’m tickled to death, you know. I thought in the fourth quarter we did get tired, and I thought that gave them the opportunity to come back,” King said after the game. “We had a lot of turnovers.”
Knott Central ended the game with 19 turnovers compared to Cordia’s 10, but the Patriots shot a better percentage from the field, at 44 percent compared to Cordia’s 29 percent. Knott Central was led in scoring by Camron Justice with 23 points to go with two assists.
Emmanuel Owootoah led Cordia with 24 points, four assists, and six steals. A.J. Tagaloa added 13 points.
Both teams will move on next week to the 14th Region tournament, and for Cordia it will be their first appearance since 2008.
“It’s going to be as tough as this was,” King said of the region. “They’re all tough from here on, and we to need celebrate the win tonight. We’ll draw tomorrow (for the region), and then come Monday we’ll do it all over again.”
Cordia stats: Emmanuel Owootoah: 24 points, 7 rebounds, 6 steals, 4 assists, 1 block; A.J. Tagaloa: 13 points, 2 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 assists; A.J. Chisolm: 11 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals; Marlon King: 8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists; Dondre Warren: 4 points, 18 rebounds, 2 steals; Matt Neace: 1 assist
Knott Central: Camron Justice: 23 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block; Chance Cornett: 16 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block; Evan Hall: 15 points, 15 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block; Corey Short: 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals; Simon Christon: 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 1 steal