The Cordia Lions hit the road Tuesday for a match-up against Knott County Central, taking on the 14th Region’s defending champs in what would be a hard-fought contest for both teams.
Knott Central came out of the gates aggressively, building an early lead before Cordia senior Zack Owens drove the lane for two points, and would later drill a three-pointer to cut the Patriots’ advantage to 12-9.
The two teams largely traded baskets in the next few minutes. Knott Central sophomore Camron Justice scored a lay-up with just over two minutes left in the quarter, but Cordia’s A.J. Tagaloa quickly erased the basket with a shot from behind the arc to bring the score to 16-14.
Cordia began the second frame trailing by five, but would later dig themselves a bigger deficit, scoring only five total points to Knott Central’s 13.
The Lions closed to within three points at the five-minute mark, just before Knott Central’s Simon Christon would hit one of two free throws for the Patriots, and then Cordia Coach Rodrick Rhodes was assessed with a technical foul while protesting a no-call. Knott Central got the ball back and scored three quick points to extend the lead to seven, and later take a 34-21 lead to halftime.
Despite the Patriots building a double-digit lead, Rhodes commented after the game that he wanted his team to come out for the second half a looser team and get some shots up.
“The mentality was, they’re a good team, we’re playing at their place, let’s just go out and play as free as we can, as loose as we can, let’s see what happens,” Rhodes said. “If the ball goes in, great, and if it doesn’t, we’ll continue to get better and we’ll get ready for the next game.”
But for the Lions, their shots did fall early on. Cordia came out with three straight three-pointers, cutting the Patriots’ lead to only four points within the first two minutes. Knott Central’s Cory Short hit a trey of his own at the 5:45 mark, but it was quickly erased as eighth grader Austin Combs hit his second shot from behind the arc to bring the score to 37-33 with just over five minutes left.
But as in the first half, Knott Central would have an answer. Simon Christon knocked down a jumper before Chance Cornett hit a three-pointer for a quick five-point swing.
Combs hit a third three-pointer for Cordia, and senior Dondre Warren added two more points, but Knott Central would still command a seven-point lead into the final frame.
Warren broke the ice for the Lions in the fourth quarter, bringing the score to 45-40, and while Cordia threatened to make a couple of runs, the clock eventually ran out and Knott Central went on to take the 61-49 win.
Despite the loss, Coach Rhodes described this game against one of the region’s better teams as a step in the right direction in terms of his players’ progression. The Lions maintained a tough defense through the box and one, though Rhodes acknowledged there were a could of lapses when Knott Central’s Blake Shrum got loose for some open shots that effectively put a damper on the Lions’ comeback in the fourth quarter.
“We told them he was a great shooter, and we lost him and he hit some big shots for them,” Rhodes said.
Ultimately, however, Rhodes added that his assistants did a good job on the scouting report, and his players did well in understanding their assignments. The Lions held sophomore center Evan Hall to six points, while Camron Justice, whom Rhodes has described as the region’s top player, scored 12 points on three of eight shooting from the field.
The Patriots were led in scoring by senior Cory Short with 14 points on four of four shooting from behind the arc.
Cordia was led in scoring by center Dondre Warren, who scored another double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“I think it was a step in the right direction for our program,” Rhodes said. “We have to learn, we have to watch the film and learn from our mistakes and see how we can get better.”
Cordia will hit the road again later this week to take on another 53rd District foe in the June Buchanan Crusaders on Dec. 14.
Cordia stats vs. Knott County Central: Dondre Warren: 12 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist; Zack Owens: 11 points, 2 steals, 1 assist; Austin Combs: 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists; A.J. Tagaloa: 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 7 assists; A.J. Chisolm: 6 points, 3 steals; Marquis Nowell: 3 points; Justin Cornett: 2 rebounds; Marcus Nowell: 1 steal