Last night (2/14/20), the Kell Longhorns hosted two games for the first round of state elimination playoffs. The girls were taking on the Lithonia Bulldogs and the boys matched up against the Miller Grove Wolverines. The girls were trying to keep their undefeated season intact, and the boys were looking to bounce back from a loss to Hiram in the region championship game (7-5A) a week earlier.
The girls were up first, and didn’t show any signs of vulnerability. They dominated the Bulldogs through the entire first half, not allowing any points until halfway through the second quarter. They took a 30-point lead into halftime, 2-32.
The Bulldogs were able to find a bit of offense in the third quarter, posting 13 points in the period. The Longhorns added another 20 points to their total, closing out the third quarter with a commanding lead, 15-52. The shortened fourth quarter was all but a formality, with Kell playing their bench all quarter. The game ended with the score at 26-58, and the Longhorns secured their spot in the 5A Sweet 16.
Head Coach Tony Ingle liked what he saw from his team. “Our defensive intensity was great,” he said, “it really got us going in the first quarter. We need to keep working to get better and more complete, but we played a solid game tonight. Going forward, we will continue to focus on one game at a time.”
The Kell boys took the floor next, ready to tangle with the Wolverines who were coming off a consolation win against Lithonia the week before. Both teams had something to prove, and both teams played like it. The first quarter was back and forth, with neither team getting much of a lead. The first quarter ended with Miller Grove up, 15-14.
The second quarter was brutal for the Longhorns, getting outscored 25-13. A last second three-point shooting foul called against Kell added insult to injury and the Longhorns went into halftime down 13 points, 40-27. Head Coach Jermaine Sellers was able to settle his team at the break and make adjustments against the Wolverine attack. “We knew coming in we would need to play up-tempo and control the speed of the game,” he said. “We didn’t do a good job of that in the first half. We need to get back to the original game plan. I challenged my guys to come out and compete in the second half.”
The Longhorns took their leader’s advice and got to work in the third quarter, outscoring the Wolverines 27-29 to take back a small piece of their lead. Kell entered the fourth quarter down 11 points and still believing in the original game plan. The tempo, and the home crowd, was about to get crazy.
With Sophomore Guard Scoota Henderson leading the charge, the Longhorns went on an unbelievable scoring run in the fourth quarter. The Kell offense posted 29 points in the fourth, outscoring the Wolverines by 11 to tie the game at the end of regulation, 85-85. A low-scoring four-minute overtime period was all Kell needed to eke out a one-point advantage to win the game, 91-92.
“We find a way to compete when things aren’t going our way,” Coach Sellers said. “They responded and fought until the end. We pushed the ball up the floor and attacked the basket which put them in foul trouble. Defensively, we pressured the ball better and eliminated second-chance scoring opportunities.”
When asked how his team was able to rally back from a 19-point deficit, Coach Sellers made it clear that it was a team effort. “It starts with taking the court at practice. They are not allowed to come on the court individually. Everybody has to be on the court at the same time together. It’s about setting team standards and having them hold each other accountable.”
The Kell girls will host Bainbridge at home next Wednesday, and the boys will travel to Region 1 top-seed Warner Robbins. Good luck, Longhorns!