The edges of the old peach basket turned fickle for the final seven minutes Monday night, sabotaging Scott County’s hopes for an elusive championship at the Beach Ball Classic.
While SC failed to make a field goal and missed numerous other chances to salt away the win at the free-throw line during that stretch, Westchester of Los Angeles closed with a 12-2 run to swipe a 42-41 victory at Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Convention Center.
Kaelen Allen sank both ends of one-and-one after a Scott County turnover and loose ball foul with 26.1 seconds remaining to put the Comets in front.
“They’re bigger and quicker than us. They have enough athleticism that they kicked it up a notch,” SC coach Billy Hicks said. “It just wears on you, because they let you be physical down here and in these big national tournaments.
SC owned the last shot and enjoyed multiple looks at the rim. Diablo Stewart first drove and kicked to Bryce Long for a 3-pointer that was off the mark.
Lorenzo Williams won a scramble for the rebound and located Cam Fluker, whose bid caromed off the back of the iron as time expired.
“We had a wide-open shot,” Hicks said.
Both nationally ranked teams are 13-1, with Scott County returning to Kentucky as a heavy favorite to run the table to win the school’s third KHSAA state title.
Williams led the Cardinals with 12 points. Stewart supplied 10, as did Glenn Covington, whose 31 points staved off North Little Rock, Arkansas, in Saturday’s semifinal.
“We had to work so hard to get shots. They were not going to let Diablo or Glenn get a shot,” Hicks said, “Lorenzo hit some good ones in the first half. Then he got really tired, didn’t have any legs and had a hard time putting that thing in.”
Scott County played the final 10 quarters of the tournament without star Michael Moreno, who suffered a hairline fracture in his right foot against Cox Mill of North Carolina on Friday.
His absence put SC at a decided size disadvantage, but the Cards used brilliant ball handling to control the tempo and lights-out 3-point shooting to grab the lead.
“Michael helps us in a lot of ways, but the two biggest ways we miss him are his shot blocking and intimidation, and his passing,” Hicks said. “If we had Michael, we could have done a lot with them. The only offense we could really run was top-to-top.”
Westchester simply locked down those outside looks as the evening progressed, and the emotional, high-octane nature of SC’s weekend appeared to take its toll on the Cards’ shooting legs in the second half.
Jordan Brinson led the Comets with 19 points. Allen finished with 11.
“I was really proud of how hard we scrapped. They were L.A. champs last year. They’re going to be a top-10 team in the country, and to be able to play them within one, without Michael, gosh,” Hicks said. “We just gutted it out. The people down here fell in love with us. We had the crowd behind us.”
Scott County, which normally shoots 52 percent from the field and 74 percent from the line, was limited to 15-for-36 (41.7 percent) against rangy Westchester. The Cards didn’t get to the line at all in the first half and missed four of eight after intermission.
Westchester jumped out to a 5-0 lead before SC settled in with threes by Fluker and Williams. The second of Williams’ three bonus balls in the first half gave the Cards their first lead, 13-12, with 7:39 remaining in the half.
“I’ve never had a team play any harder than what they did,” Hicks said. “And that’s our goal every game, to see how hard we can play.”
Covington and Williams continued the barrage from outside, increasing the lead to five before four consecutive points from Brinson and a layup by Jeremiah Turley put the Comets back in front late in the half.
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Terrin Hamilton retrieved the lead for Scott County at the horn with a put-back of Long’s floater off the front of the rim.
Again, Westchester drew first blood in the second half with six straight points form Brinson before SC took apparent command. Covington tied the game in a 52-second flourish, first on a backdoor cut off a brilliant bullet pass from Fluker, then with a 3-pointer.
Williams scored off a steal and Fluker stuck a step-back jumper to notch a pair of lead changes. Fluker’s shot touched off a 10-0 run, with a Stewart three sandwiched between baskets from Covington and Hamilton.
“Terrin played a lot stronger tonight against their big guys,” Hicks said. “Down the stretch I probably could have gone with a little more size, but I knew they were going to come at us hard, pressing, and I had to get our better ball handlers in the game.”
Hamilton’s hoop with 7:49 left, stunningly, was the final field goal. Turley buried a three to begin Westchester’s gritty comeback.
The teams met two years ago in a consolation game, with the Comets rallying in eerily similar fashion for a 54-53 win.
Williams and Covington were named to the all-tournament team, with Williams receiving defensive MVP honors.
“That’s hard to do in this tournament,” Hicks said of the honors.
SC is 22-19 all-time in 11 trip to the tournament, which has featured countless future NBA and NCAA stars since its inception in 1981. The Cards’ best previous finish was third.
Scott County will resume its 42nd District schedule at Henry Clay at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“Now we’ve got to get back and learn to play without Michael for a little while. Then once we get Michael back, we’ll be better than ever,” Hicks said. “We’ll have to suck it up for a while. Two of our toughest games of the year are Friday and Saturday. We’ve got to find a way to do it.”