KINGSTON – Arguably the hottest basketball team in Bryan County going into the holiday break was the Rock Creek Mustangs. But if they wanted to gain some respect in the Class 2A state rankings, where they barely scratched at number 20 this week, they knew this was the weekend for a statement.
Coach Craig Andrus’ crew virtually dismantled 2A defending state champ and current second-ranked Latta, 60-49 on Thursday, and then followed that with another statement gem in a 53-52 triumph over fourth-rated Talihina on Friday night to avenge last year’s regional finals loss and advance to the Kingston New Years Classic championship game.
They’ll meet Class 3A number one Kingston in the title tilt tonight at 8:30 after the Redskins mowed through Tishomingo and Dale.
Kingston girls picked up two wins as well to advance to the championship alongside Dale, which belted Rock Creek by a 49-24 count in the other winner’s bracket semifinal.
Silo girls and boys each bowed out of the tournament on Friday with their second loss.
Rock Creek 53, Talihina 52 (boys)
Talihina senior stalwart Karim Byrd put on an athletic clinic throughout but in the end it was the Rock Creek balance and clutch plays on both ends of the court that made the difference.
The Mustangs looked like they might have it in hand after Sam Roper ignited the crowd with a dazzling reverse layup with 2:21 left that put Rock Creek ahead 51-45. The Golden Tigers however reeled off five points in a row, trimming the lead to one with Austin Fenton’s conventional three-point play at the 1:24 mark.
Following a Roper missed trey, Mustang junior Karson Dry came up with one of the decisive plays by drawing a charge with 53 seconds left. Rock Creek missed a chance to add to the lead at the free throw line 18 seconds later but Christian McGowan’s big offensive rebound proved to be another blow to the Tigers.
Dry connected on two charity tosses with 25 seconds left but Talihina got a quick Dylan Blair bucket and came up with a Rock Creek turnover with seven seconds to go. The Golden Tigers misfired in the frantic final seconds and Austin Green pulled away the rebound to seal it.
For the second straight day a cold shooting second quarter had Rock Creek on the ropes but McGowan and Luke Jestis drained three-pointers late in the half to cut a nine-point margin to just three at the break.
Rock Creek then utilized a 9-2 run in the third to claim the lead for good.
Roper totaled 18 points with McGowan tacking on 10 as well as nine each from Dry and Darian James.
Rock Creek 60, Latta 49 (boys)
The Mustangs pulled off the monster upset of the defending state champs with a sensational all-around performance.
Outside of a roughly five-minute offensive drought in the second quarter, Rock Creek virtually dominated the full contest against the second-rated team in Class 2A.
The Mustangs set the tone from the start, connecting on their first four shots from the field, including three-pointers from Christian McGowan and Sam Roper, en route to a quick 12-2 advantage.
Andrus’ club was up 17-8 through one stanza and extended the lead to 22-11 on Roper’s trey, but the Mustangs managed only one field goal the final 5:26 of the half allowing Latta to claw back into it and took a narrow 26-25 edge to intermission after closing on a 15-3 run.
The Panthers push the margin to three to open the third quarter but Karson Dry immediately knotted the score with a trey and Roper put the Mustangs ahead to stay with a pair of free throws and a three-pointer to cap another 8-0 burst.
After Latta threatened to go back in front in the closing minute of the period, Luke Jestis took all the wind out of the Panther sails with a dagger trey from the left corner in the waning seconds.
Rock Creek carried that momentum over to the final stanza, scoring the first five points of the frame on two Dry charity tosses and a Roper bomb from the top of the key, extending the margin to 44-34.
The defending champs closed to within 47-40 on Trent Smith’s three-point play with 3:26 remaining but never got in closer as the Mustangs slammed the door, building as much as a 15-point bulge donw the stretch.
Three Mustangs reached double figures in the balanced assault led by 15 apiece by Roper and McGowan. Dry contributed 12 points.
Dale 49, Rock Creek 24 (girls)
Class 2A’s third-ranked Dale wasn’t much by Rock Creek’s aggressive pressure defense and the Lady Mustangs found the going tough getting many open looks offensively.
Dale built a 21-7 lead after one quarter and methodically pulled away from there.
Rock Creek got 13 points from Hannah Heflin but she was the only Lady Mustang to reach double figures in the contest.
Rock Creek 52, Tishomingo 33 (girls)
Rock Creek avenged a season-ending loss in last year’s district playoffs with a convincing victory from the start, thanks largely to their pressure defensive attack.
Tishomingo had no answer for Lady Mustang sophomore Teeronie McCann, who poured in eight points in both the first and second quarters on the way to a game-high 20 points.
It was almost dead even midway through the first when Rock Creek erupted on a 14-5 flurry to close the period.
McCann had eight to start the second frame and Lainey Jestis chipped in a trey as the advantage ballooned to as much as 19 points following another 11-2 burst.
Latta 60, Silo 49 (boys)
In a game loaded with offensive flurries, it was a 15-4 burst by the state’s second ranked team that proved too much to overcome.
Silo trailed just 32-29 after a Jacob Lawless trey early in the third stanza but the Rebels hit a dry spell as the Panthers pulled away.
The Rebels had one final push left, narrowing the margin to 54-49 on two Ty Herndon free throws with 1:42 left but went scoreless the rest of the way.
Lawless and Patch Hamilton tied for scoring honors with 12 points apiece. Dylan Turner added 11 and Austin Thomas chipped in 10.
Talihina 72, Silo 60 (boys)
A rough start by Silo dug the Rebels a double-digit deficit from which they could never fully recover.
Talihina raced to a 20-9 advantage before back-to-back treys from sophomore Korben Ford, including a halfcourt bomb at the buzzer, helped Silo trim the margin to 20-15 at the end of one.
Austin Thomas opened the second frame with another three-pointer but the Rebels went cold, not scoring another basket until the midway point of the quarter. By that point the Golden Tigers had built a commanding 16-point edge.
Things didn’t get much better after the half as the Golden Tigers put it completely out of reach with nine consecutive points to begin the half. Silo narrowed the gap as close as seven with 1:40 left after five straight points from Turner but couldn’t get any closer.
Ford led the way with 16 points, Turner added 15 with Thomas chipping in 14 and Patch Hamilton 11.
Talihina 58, Silo 32 (girls)
The short-handed Lady Rebels hung tough through one stanza but couldn’t hold off the Golden Tigers in the second period as a 19-5 run broke things open.
Carrying over from the first half, Talihina scored 19 straight points before an Alys Parr trey briefly stopped the Silo bleeding.
Ryan Herndon led the scoring with nine while Parr added seven.
Latta 57, Silo 41 (girls)
Freshman Ryan Herndon exploded for 26 points but Silo was unable to hold off a Latta second half onslaught in the opening round of the Kingston New Years Classic.
The Lady Rebels took a 10-8 first quarter lead after eight from Herndon right out of the gate, but Latta answered with a 15-11 run in the second to take the lead for good.
Kingston 58, Talihina 31 (girls)
It took a full half for the host Lady Redskins to shake the upset bid of Talihina.
Kingston led 14-9 after one quarter and pushed the margin to double figures in the second behind solid early scoring from senior Kes Reeves. The Lady Redskins flexed their muscle early in the third with a 15-3 run that saw the advantage mushroom to 20 points and it was never in doubt again.
Reeves ended with a game-high 20 points while freshman Avri Weeks also reached double figures with 14.
Kingston 48, Latta 33 (girls)
A 17-2 first quarter eruption by Kingston put it away quickly and the Lady Redskins cruised into the championship game.
The hosts were up 27-14 at halftime and 38-20 after three stanzas.
Reeves posted 15 while Weeks added 14 and Britney Henderson also hit double digits with 12.
Kingston 66, Tishomingo 25 (boys)
While it was not the normal Redskin fast start, they put things away with monster second and third quarters.
Kingston led only 16-6 through one period but outscored the visitors 22-7 in period number two. Another 20-6 blitz in the third sent the starters to the bench early.
R.J. Weeks was the offensive catalyst with 18 of his game-high 19 points before halftime.
Jacob Germany tossed in 13 points and Trey Keatts had 11 for the top-rated Redskins.
Kingston 45, Dale 23 (boys)
Despite a pace not quite to their liking, Kingston rode solid defense into the tournament finals.
The Redskins held a 10-8 edge after one period before outscoring the Pirates 15-3 in the second to take control.
Germany and Jacob Whipkey each had 12 points to lead the offense.
Silo’s Ryan Cochran drives past a Latta defender en route to two of her game-high 26 points against the Lady Panthers in the Kingston New Years Classic.