BY BRIAN HAMILTON
SEYMOUR – The King’s Academy advanced to its first regional semifinal in school history on Monday night, as the Lions jumped out to a roaring start and never looked back, pouncing on Grace Baptist Academy 78-36 in the regional quarterfinal.
“We’ve never been this far,” King’s Academy head coach Sean Jones said. “I think our guys enjoy each other so much that they just want to win together. They just want to keep playing. They don’t care about anything else right now. When we set goals at the beginning of the season, it wasn’t that we were trying…it was nothing individual and we didn’t have a specific place that we wanted to get to. We just wanted to see how good we could be and because we kind of left that open, now we’ve put ourselves in this position and our guys are hungry.”
Elia Bonjiorno was fouled on TKA’s opening possession and converted 1-of-2 free throw attempts to give the Lions a 1-0 lead. Damjan Simun then stole the ball and found David Canterbury for a three, giving TKA a 4-0 advantage within the first minute.
Grace Academy finally got on the board when Eli Ibrahim hit a jumper to trim the lead to 4-2. Simun answered on the next Lions next possession with a driving layup to extend the lead to 6-2.
Two consecutive baskets by Ibrahim knotted the game at 6-6 with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter, but that would be as close as the Golden Eagles would get.
Harrison Rollins scored on a put back to give TKA an 8-6 lead and two Simun free throws would stretch the lead to 10-6. Bonjiorno then caught an alley-oop on an inbounds and laid it in for a 12-6 lead.
After a layup by Zeke Connatser, a layup by Rollins and another alley-oop layup off an inbounds — this time to Jack Townsend — the Lions led 18-6 after a dominant 12-0 run. TKA took a 21-10 lead into the second quarter.
TKA upstaged their run in the first quarter, by holding Grace Christian scoreless for the majority of the second quarter and embarking on a 24-0 run.
The Lions were up 35-10 when sophomore point guard Jack Townsend went on a tear, scoring seven consecutive points on two layups and a three to give TKA a commanding 42-10 lead.
Bonjiorno was fouled on the next possession and converted both free throws to stretch the lead to 44-10, followed by Townsend splitting a pair from the line to make the score 45-10.
The Golden Eagles would finally stop the hemorrhaging when Christian Englebrecht hit a jumper to make the score 45-12. Bonjiorno answered with a three to push the lead to 48-12 and the Lions took a 50-17 lead into the locker room at the half.
Grace Academy would score first in the third quarter, but Rollins would answer with a one-handed dunk to make the score 52-19. The home crowd then erupted as Simun grabbed a steal and flushed a two-handed jam on the next possession to put the Lions ahead 54-19.
A triple by Kenneth Hall gave TKA a 64-27 lead with 2:19 left in the third quarter, which was followed by a Rollins layup to make the score 66-27. Bonjiorno hit a layup late in the quarter, as the Lions stretched their lead over 40 and took a 72-27 lead into the final stanza.
Jones began to empty his bench in the fourth quarter, allowing his reserves to get valuable minutes. The student section began to chant “Tony” in the fourth, as fan favorite bench player Tony Burton entered the game. The crowd erupted when Burton made a basket with 1:38 remaining in the game and the Lions went on to win 78-36.
Harrison Rollins led all scorers with 23, while Grace Academy’s Eli Ibrahim finished with 18 of the Golden Eagles’ 36.
“(Ibrahim) is probably the best midrange player we’ve played all year and I was really worried about him getting to his spots from 10- to 15-feet and he did that early on,” Jones said of Ibrahim’s play.
Elia Bonjiorno added 17 for TKA, while Jack Townsend and Damjan Simun added 10 apiece.
“I challenged our guys to come out and have a great start and stayed locked in and remain focused and they answered the call,” Jones said after the game. “I really just think we understood the assignment that we had tonight. We made sure that whether something good happened or whether something bad happened that we remained together as a group on the floor and it was five guys all trying to do the same thing. We didn’t do anything special, we didn’t do anything different, we didn’t change our approach. We just did what we do and we executed at a high level tonight and it was beautiful to see.”
The King’s Academy (25-6) will try to stay locked in and execute at a high level on Friday evening, as the Lions travel to Lakeway Christian to face Boyd Buchanan (23-5) on Friday. The two teams met in December and the Buccaneers came away with a 62-51 win.
“They’ve kind of set the table for themselves and given themselves a great opportunity on Friday,” Jones said. “We’re going to play a team that has beat us one time. We were up 10 in the first half and we’re going to get a chance to play them again and our guys are going to be ready for that.”