When the referees waved off a last-second 3-pointer that would have tied the game at halftime, the Kentwood Conquerors were upset.
Junior guard Darius LuBom’s 3-pointer was ruled a fraction too late, and Kentwood went into halftime trailing Kent-Meridian by three.
“We were kind of mad they didn’t give us the three points,” LuBom said. “We were down (at halftime), and we’re not used to being down in our own house.”
Kentwood picked up the tempo after halftime. A 14-3 scoring run gave the Conquerors control of the game, and they held on for a, 54-51, South Puget Sound League Northeast victory.
The Conquerors pulled away by releasing a guard early after missed Kent-Meridian shots, resulting in fastbreak layups. Rayvaughn Bolton scored seven points during the third quarter spurt.
“Our kids are such good athletes, and we want them to get out in space,” Kentwood coach Blake Solomon said. “We can also execute well in the half-court, and you saw both in the second half.”
LuBom scored 19 points to lead the Conquerors. Included was a dramatic sequence at the end of the game.
With Kentwood leading 50-45 and the Royals frantically trying to make a steal, LuBom found himself wide open under the basket for an easy lay-in — only to miss the shot with 23 seconds to go. Four seconds later, Kent-Meridian star Romaine Jackson hit a 3-pointer to give the Royals life.
“I was disappointed, but you’ve just got to shake it off,” LuBom said. “I didn’t let it get to my head — on to the next play.”
The next play turned out to be free throws. LuBom was fouled immediately, and stepped up to the free throw line to shoot one-and-one. He made both, giving Kentwood a 52-48 lead with 16 seconds to go.
“We have a ton of good shooters on this team, but sometimes we struggle from the free throw line which is kind of weird,” Solomon said. “Tonight our two leaders stepped up and went 4-for-4 down the stretch.”
Kentwood (14-3, 5-0) clinched at least a tie for the division title.
Jackson led Kent-Meridian (11-5, 4-2) with 22 points. The 5-foot-6 senior point guard chipped in six assists and had four rebounds. Kentwood played a considerable amount of zone defense in the second half to prevent him from driving to the basket.
“He’s pretty good,” LuBom said. “We knew to not let him get started early, and he hit their first shot and after that he was on a run. We stopped him eventually and got our win.”
Kent-Meridian; 13; 15; 7; 16;—; 51;
Kentwood; 17; 8; 14; 15;—;54;
Kent-Meridian: Jackson 22, Banks 7, McConico 4, Hall 7, Landers 2, Bell 2, Campbell 2, Fuentes 5, Haley.
Kentwood: Lee, Millon, Huerta 8, Bolton 9, Sanchez 5, Benson 5, Kramer 3, Roggenbach 5, Sheppard, LuBom 19.