BOURBON – No matter how hard second-ranked Tri-County fought to make a comeback stick after trailing by double-digits early Saturday morning, Gary 21st Century Charter always had an answer in a 69-57 loss in the Class A Triton Regional semifinals. Tri-County (23-3) erased a 14-point first half deficit to take the lead on four different occasions in the second half, only see 21st Century quickly snatch the lead right back in a physical game.
The Cavaliers ended their season with 23 victories, the most in school history. The Cougars (18-8) advanced to the regional finals Saturday night against the Oregon-Davis Bobcats, which beat Lakewood Park Christian 66-50 in the second semifinals game. “I thought we showed some mental toughness, especially in an environment like this where it’s easy when a team like that gets on top of you 10, 11 points in the first quarter to wonder what are we doing here,” Tri-County coach Tyler Scherer said
“We really hung in there and trusted the process and got back into the game, and be able to fight and battle. I don’t know if they expected this to be a game, certainly not after the way it started. That’s a credit to our guys and their mental toughness and mental fortitude.”
The one stat that defined the Cougars’ victory was the rebounding column, where 21st Century held a 51-29 edge. Forward De’Andre Gholston appeared to vacuum up every ball around him, collecting 22 rebounds to go with his 20 points. The Cougars were able to score 19 points off offensive rebounds, giving 21st Century enough chances to turn the game in their favor. The game’s decisive stretch came at the start of the fourth quarter.
Christian Rogers’ steal and layup gave the Cavaliers their last lead at 49-48 with 7:28 to play. Freshman Johnell Davis grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the Cougars next possession to give 21st Century the lead again. Then Davis, who scored 20 points, made two consecutive steals in the Cavaliers backcourt and turned them into easy layups. After a timeout, Davis made his fourth basket after a turnover, and all of the sudden 21st Century was back up 55-48.
“They’ve been doing that for us all year,” 21st Century coach Rodney Williams said. “We knew they were going to come back. They hit us in the mouth and we told our boys that they would come back.”
The Cavaliers would get no closer than six points the rest of the way. Nate Patton led Tri-County with 17 points, followed by Bennie Patterson and Riley Ewen with 15 points each.
Scherer admitted that the Cougars’ speed played a factor in the Cavaliers turning the ball over 19 times. Gary 21st Century’s press led to 20 points.
“We’ve been outsized all year, but I thought the difference in this game was that we were out-quicked as well,” Scherer said. “They were quick off their feet and got a lot of offensive opportunities as well. (Gholston) and (Davis) just followed their shots really well.”
Tri-County fell behind 24-10 in the first quarter, mostly on the back Gholston’s offensive rebounding, but the Cavaliers outscored the Cougars 9-2 at the end of the period to trim the deficit to a manageable 31-26 by halftime.