MACON, GEORGIA – With star Peyton Marshall sitting on the bench with four fouls, Kell head coach Jermaine Sellers was willing to risk his big man fouling out when he put him back in the game with 3:36 left to play.
Trailing by one point, Marshall scored the next five points for the Longhorns, and after getting the lead, they never relinquished it.
Playing in only their second state championship in program history, Kell took down Eagle’s Landing 61-53 to win the Class 5A state championship Friday night at the Macon Centreplex after out-scoring the Eagles 18-6 in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles had used a big third quarter to take a 47-43 lead into the fourth before squandering it down the stretch.
“I feel a little relieved,” Sellers said after helping lead the Longhorns to their first state title. “You put so much work and effort into this. Going through that third quarter, you didn’t want to let it slip away. We really had to put our all into that last quarter, and it was pretty exhausting, but I’m enjoying it (now).”
The Longhorns were led by CJ Brown, who scored 22 points on 7 of 14 shooting. Cannon Richards joined him in double figures with 11 points while Marshall scored nine, all in the second half.
Seven straight points from Brown gave the Longhorns an early 7-2 three minutes into the first quarter.
After starting the game just 1 of 5 from the field, the Eagles trimmed the Longhorns’ lead to 7-6 and had a prime opportunity to take their first lead of the game with senior Khylan McKennie standing at the free throw line.
But after two misses from McKennie, the Longhorns marched on an 11-0 run and led 18-6 after a corner three-pointer from Jaylen Colon.
Star Eagles guard David Thomas didn’t hit his first basket of the game until the 7:37 mark of the first quarter, but after his jump shot and a Clark Mastin buzzer-beating layup, that trimmed Kell’s lead down to eight points, 18-10 heading into the second quarter.
It didn’t take long for the Longhorns to get a double-digit lead back after a corner-three pointer from Aaron Smith.
Leading 23-12, Thomas drilled his first three-pointer of the game and that cut Kell’s lead to eight points. After a slow start, the three-pointer gave Thomas seven points for the game.
Another Thomas jumper cut the Longhorns’ lead to seven, 26-19 with just under three minutes remaining before halftime, but that was as close as they would get.
A Richards layup assisted by Brown extended their lead back out to 10 points and after a quick steal and layup by Isaiah Wood, the Longhorns led 33-21.
Heading into the half, the Longhorns led the Eagles 33-23 after shooting 52 percent from the field.
Brown led the way for the Longhorns with 10 points while Richards scored nine. They did almost all of their damage with 7-footer Marshall on the bench after the junior picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter.
Thomas led the Eagles in scoring at the break with 11 points on 5 of 10 shooting, but as a team, they managed to shoot just 42 percent from the field including 1-for-8 from three-point range.
With Marshall back in the game to start the third quarter for the Longhorns, the junior scored a pair of baskets – his first two of the game – to extend their lead to a game-high 14 points.
From there, however, everything fell apart for the Longhorns.
In desperate need of a run, the Eagles dominated the next four minutes and knotted the game at 39 following an alley-opp dunk from Thomas to Kenny Brayboy.
The dunk capped a 16-2 for the Eagles with Thomas responsible for eight of the Eagles’ points.
The Longhorns got a brief 41-39 lead back before the Eagles closed out the two minutes of the third quarter on a 9-2 run to take a 47-43 lead into the fourth quarter.
After struggling to score the ball in the first half, the Eagles poured in 24 points in the third quarter, one more than they scored in the entire first half (23).
Thomas led all scorers heading into the fourth quarter with 21 points.
But just as quickly as the Eagles gained control of the game, the Longhorns responded in the fourth quarter.
A quick 7-2 to open the fourth quarter gave the Longhorns the lead back, 50-49 after three free throws from Connor Staphylaris.
Redmond gave the Eagles the lead back, 51-50 on the ensuing possession with 5:01 remaining, and that score held until Marshall dunked one home with 3:35 left to give the Longhorns the lead back, 52-51.
Playing with four fouls, Marshall was fouled on the next Longhorns possession by Thomas, which also gave the star Eagles hard his fourth foul of the game. Marshall split the pair of free throws to extend Kell’s lead to two points, 53-51 with 2:51 remaining.
With a chance to tie on the other end, the Eagles turned the ball over and after a Brown miss, Marshall was there for an easy putback layup to extend the Longhorns’ lead to four points, 55-51 with two minutes left to play.
After re-entering the game with 3:36 left to play, Marshall was responsible for the next five points scored by the Longhorns.
In desperate need of some offense, Morris was fouled under the basket and nailed a pair of free throws to snap Kell’s 5-0 run. The free throws cut Kell’s lead to 55-53 with 1:29 to play.
Despite the two made free throws, it extended a run of 3:45 without a basket for the Eagles.
Looking to make it a two-possession game, the Longhorns got what they wished for after a strong drive to the basket by Brown resulted in a layup. That gave the Longhorns a four-point lead, 57-53 with 1:04 left to play.
Needing a basket, Brayboy was blocked at the rim by Richards with 44 seconds remaining, proving to be a big play down the stretch for the Longhorns.
Needing to foul, the Eagles sent Brown to the free-throw line, and the junior delivered after knocking down the pair.
Leading 59-53 with under 30 seconds remaining, the Longhorns were able to finish off the game at the free throw line to win by eight.
After entering the fourth quarter trailing by four points, Sellers told his guys to get back to playing their brand of basketball.
“We just had to stay calm and go back to doing what we do,” Sellers said. “They responded. Every challenge that we set for them this year, they have responded. That’s a testament here tonight.”
The win also completes a sweep for Kell High School after the girls defeated Warner Robins 57-36 in the Class 5A state championship in the game prior.
“That’s awesome,” Sellers said. “We’re going to enjoy this for a while.”
The Eagles were led by Thomas, who scored a game-high 23 points on 9 of 18 shooting. Brayboy was the only other Eagle to score in double figures with 12 points.