TKA vs Boyd Buchanan

Rollins, Simun lift Lions to first regional final berth in school history


WHITE PINE – A little over two years ago, Harrison Rollins sat before his coach going into his freshman season and was asked, “What do you want to get out of your four years here at TKA?” The now-junior forward responded, “I want to lead this team to a state tournament.”

Rollins is now one step closer to doing just that after scoring a career-high 27 points during The King’s Academy’s impressive 64-53 region semifinal win over Boyd Buchanan on Friday night. The Lions were able to avenge a December loss to the Buccaneers and clinched a berth in the state quarterfinals at home next Saturday. A win would send them to the Final Four in Cookeville.

Harrison Rollins

The King’s Academy’s Harrison Rollins (15) goes up for two of his career-high 27 during the Lions’ 64-53 win over Boyd Buchanan in the region semifinals. Photo by Brian Hamilton

Don’t mention that to TKA head coach Sean Jones right now though, as he and his team have bigger fish to fry in the meantime. Remember that old saying, “Don’t put the cart before the horse?” The Lions have an opportunity to win their first region championship in school history when they face Notre Dame on Saturday night.

“I was really just focused on winning the game,” Rollins said of his career-high mark. “This means a lot. That was my goal as a freshman, to be able to play in a state tournament and have an opportunity to win a state title.”

Rollins and senior Damjan Simun continually and fearlessly attacked a Boyd Buchanan front court that included three players over 6-6, as the two standouts often found a way to get to the rim and convert baskets.

“They have seven people that are taller than anybody on our team,” Jones said. “In the first game, we hadn’t played anybody that big and that long, so I think we thought they were affecting things at the rim a lot more than they actually were. They only had one block (in December), so when we went back and watched the film, we talked and a lot of the mistakes we made were not things that they forced. It was things that we did by rushing, not having our eyes up and not being on balance. As we went into this game, we just wanted to attack. They don’t want their bigs to foul anymore than we don’t want to foul their bigs and when that’s the mentality, you play a little bit more free, when you’re not afraid to get your shot blocked.”

Boyd Buchanan opened the game strong, as Jaylon Moore scored the first two baskets to give the Buccaneers an early 4-0 lead. Jack Townsend then grabbed a steal and threw it ahead to Damjan Simun to give TKA its first points and make the score 4-2.

Moore scored on a layup, followed by a powerful dunk to extend the Boyd Buchanan lead to 8-2 with five minutes left in the first quarter. At that point, it looked as if the Lions were going to be in for a long night, as they had no answer for the 6-8 forward in the early going.

While Moore was putting on a show early, Simun began to do the same for TKA. The senior guard scored on two consecutive layups to cut the Buccaneers’ lead to 8-6 with just under three minutes left in the first quarter.

Moore went up for a strong two-handed jam on the next Boyd possession and at that point Moore had all 10 of the Buccaneers’ points and Simun had all six of TKA’s points.

Things didn’t get any better for the Lions in the early going, however, as Boyd’s Caden Johnson hit a floater, followed by a three by Ryan Lopez that gave Boyd Buchanan a commanding 15-6 lead.

Damjan Simun

TKA’s Damjan Simun goes up for a basket during the Lions’ win over Boyd Buchanan Thursday night. Photo by Brian Hamilton

Harrison Rollins hit a three with 10 seconds remaining to pull TKA to within 15-9, but Lopez came down the court and nailed a three at the buzzer to seemingly take the wind out of the sails for the Lions, as Boyd Buchanan had doubled up the Lions 18-9 after one quarter.

“In the first quarter, I feel like we pressed a little bit,” Jones said. “We were kind of worried about the moment and they were pushing the ball down the floor, throwing the ball inside and we just weren’t locked in physically and following the scouting report. We just needed to settle down. Offensively, all of the things we wanted to do were there and there really weren’t adjustments offensively. They might be able to stop some of that stuff once or twice, but if you continue to go at them, you’re going to give yourself more opportunities.”

Just as they did in the district championship against Lakeway Christian, TKA continued to fight and claw their way back into the game. Rollins started off the second quarter by converting an old-fashioned three-point play to trim the deficit to 18-12, followed by two more free throws to make the score 18-14.

Two free throws by Boyd’s Noah Reid would stretch the lead back to 20-14, but Simun corralled a rebound after having his shot rejected by the Buccaneers’ Nathan Miller and converted a layup to make the score 20-16.

Ryan Lopez was fouled while attempting a three on the next Boyd Buchanan possession and converted all three from the stripe, giving the Buccaneers a 23-16 lead with 5:39 to go in the first half.

Simun hit a floater on the next trip down to make the score 23-18, but Boyd’s Jaylon Moore answered with a bank shot to stretch the lead back to seven.

Zeke Connatser answered on the other end with a three-pointer to cut the Boyd lead to 25-21, which was followed by charging calls on the next two Buccaneer possessions.

Rollins and TKA took advantage of the two turnovers, as the junior forward nailed a three to cut the TKA deficit to 25-24 with 3:17 left in the second quarter. With the Lions trailing 27-24, Rollins converted a layup to again make it a one point game with just under two minutes left before intermission.

TKA took its first lead of the night when Rollins drained his third trifecta of the game, giving the Lions a 29-28 lead with 1:13 left to go in the half. Rollins would later convert a driving layup with five seconds remaining to send TKA to the half with a 31-28 advantage and the Lions would never trail again in the game.

The King’s Academy used a 9-2 run to open the second half and led 40-33 when Connatser was fouled while making a layup and went to the line with the opportunity to convert a 3-point play. The senior missed the foul shot, but the Lions took their largest lead of the game at 42-34.

Boyd Buchanan showed that they would not go down without a fight, however, as Moore made two consecutive layups to trim the TKA lead to 42-38 with just 25 seconds left in the third quarter.

TKA Lions

TKA coach Sean Jones meets with his players during a timeout in the second half of the Lions’ win over Boyd Buchanan. Photo by Brian Hamilton

Simun would answer by grabbing a rebound and scoring on a putback to make the score 44-38 with just over five seconds left in the quarter. Lopez would close the third period with a deep three at the buzzer, however, cutting the TKA lead to 44-41 heading into the final frame.

Connatser grabbed a steal early in the fourth quarter and found Rollins for a layup to make the score 47-41, followed by a Simun basket that capped a 5-0 TKA run to open the quarter and give the Lions a 49-41 advantage.

Nathan Miller scored on a dunk for Boyd, but Simun once again answered with a ferocious driving layup to stretch the TKA lead back to 51-43.

A steal and layup by Lopez cut the Lions’ lead to 51-45, but TKA continued to answer the Buccaneers blow-for-blow, as sophomore Kenneth Hall sank a foul line jumper to push the TKA lead back to eight with just over four minutes left.

Two free throws by Connatser with three minutes to go would give the Lions their first double-digit lead of the contest, at 56-46. Rollins would then score two consecutive layups, with the latter giving TKA a 60-48 lead with 2:13 left in the game.

TKA would go on to win 64-53, as the Lions advanced to their first region championship in school history.

Rollins led all scorers with 27, while Simun followed with 21. Zeke Connatser would finish with nine for the Lions.

“(Rollins) and Damjan were fantastic tonight,” Jones said after the game. “We didn’t feel like their big guys could guard our two big guys and our goal was to take it right at them. They did an excellent job of understanding the scouting report and following through.”

Boyd Buchanan was led by Jaylon Moore’s 18 points, while Ryan Lopez finished with 16.

The King’s Academy (26-6) will face off against Notre Dame (20-8) on Saturday night at Lakeway Christian, as the Fighting Irish won the late semifinal game 57-56 in a thriller over Silverdale Academy. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.





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