BY BRIAN HAMILTON
SEYMOUR – The King’s Academy had a season for the ages this year, winning the district and region for the first time, but the Lions came up short of a berth in the Final Four, falling to top-ranked Goodpasture 51-36 on Saturday afternoon.
“That’s the best team in the state,” King’s Academy head coach Sean Jones said after the game. “They’ve been number one all year and they’ve only lost twice all year. Ultimately, they did to us what they do to everybody. They’ll play you close for a quarter or two and then they get a little push where they get up 10 or 12 and they hold it. It’s hard to get back over that hump.”
Goodpasture got on the board first, as Jack Carter cleaned up a miss by Isaiah West, giving the Cougars an early 2-0 lead. The lead would be short-lived, however, as Harrison Rollins backed down West, a Vanderbilt commit, and drew the foul while converting the layup, giving TKA a 3-2 advantage with 5:31 left in the first quarter.
Shawn Link would nail a three on the next Cougar possession, as Goodpasture went back in front 5-3. A triple by West would then give the Cougars an 8-3 advantage midway through the first period.
TKA’s Damjan Simon made a nice spin move in the lane and converted the layup to make the score 8-5. Carter answered for Goodpasture with a monstrous two-handed jam, extending the Cougars’ lead to 10-5 with just under four minutes to go in the first.
Rollins sank a pair of free throws to pull TKA to within 10-7. The junior forward then converted a layup on the next offensive possession to trim the Lions’ deficit to 10-9.
West would hit a shifty layup to give Goodpasture a 12-9 lead with four seconds remaining in the quarter. A half-court shot by Simun would go wide-right, sending the Lions to the second frame trailing 12-9.
Goodpasture started the second quarter on a 6-0 run, which was an 8-0 run, spanning back to the first quarter. Zeke Connatser would end TKA’s drought when he converted 1-of-2 free throws to make the score 18-10 with 5:14 left in the first half.
A layup by Clark would give Goodpasture a 20-10 lead, but two Rollins free throws would trim the TKA deficit back to single-digits, at 20-12.
The King’s Academy would score its first field goal since the first quarter when Rollins caught a nice pass from Simun and laid it up to make the score 23-14 with 3:14 left before intermission.
A steal and dunk by sophomore King Keary gave Goodpasture a 25-14 lead, but Simun answered on the other end with a layup to cut the Lions’ deficit to 25-16. Goodpasture drained a three with just over one minute in the first half to put the Cougars in front 28-16.
TKA would close the half with momentum, however, finishing the half on a 5-0 run to trim the Lions’ deficit to 28-21.
Goodpasture scored first in the third quarter to take a 30-21 lead, but Simun answered with a layup to make the score 30-23. Link scored on a finger roll on the other end to push the Cougars’ lead back to 32-23 with 5:11 left in the period.
After a floater by West, followed by a three-pointer by Link, TKA saw itself facing a 37-23 deficit midway through the third quarter, as Goodpasture started the second half on a 9-2 spurt.
Simun stole an errant pass by West on the next Goodpasture possession and raced to the other end for a dunk to make the score 37-25 with 3:15 left in the third.
Elia Bongiorno drove the lane for a layup to trim the Cougars’ lead to 37-27, but TKA could not get the lead back to single-digits, as the senior missed the free-throw attempt.
Goodpasture closed the third quarter on a 4-0 run, as Jayden Jones threw down a ferocious dunk with four seconds left, sending TKA to the fourth quarter trailing 41-27.
The Cougars stretched the lead to 43-27 early in the fourth quarter, as the Lions began to see midnight about strike on its dream season. TKA would not go down without a fight, however, as Simun drove to the lane for a layup that made the score 43-29.
Bongiorno drained a three to trim the TKA deficit to 43-32 with 4:10 left in the game, which was followed by Rollins going to the line for a pair of free throws. Once again, the Lions were unable to cut the lead to single-digits, as Rollins made just 1-of-2 from the line, making the score 43-33 with 3:33 remaining.
That would be the closest TKA would get, unfortunately, as Goodpasture was able to control the game down the stretch, icing the game with a thundering alley-oop from West to Carter for a 50-36 lead with under a minute remaining.
Goodpasture would go on to win the contest 51-36, sending the Cougars to the Final Four next week in Cookeville, while TKA sees its best season in school history come just short of a berth in the state championships.
TKA’s Elia Bongiorno led all scorers with 13 points, while Harrison Rollins finished with 12. Damjan Simun also scored in double-figures with 10 points, but the rest of the team only scored one point.
Vanderbilt commit Isaiah West and Jack Carter each finished with 11 points apiece for Goodpasture, while King Keary added 10 for the Cougars.
“His season high, I believe is 20 (points),” Jones said of West. “When someone is a 4-star recruit and their season-high is 20, it’s kind of confusing. What makes him really great is his ability to control the game and handle the ball. He’s a great passer. He controls tempo, offensively and defensively. He just understands pace and can guard multiple positions. He does a good job changing pace, getting in the paint and finding the right guys. We were scrambling trying to contain him defensively, and when you’re at that point where you’re scrambling, it’s kind of hard.”
TKA held Goodpasture to 20 points under their average, but the Lions’ woes were on the offensive end.
“Our goal was to hold them under 55, but we needed to shoot 45 (percent from the field), 33 (percent from three), and 70 (percent on free throws), percentage-wise from the field and we did not do that,” Jones said. “We had the pace close to where we wanted it, but they just did a good job on us. They were equally as prepared for us as we were for them. They gave us a little bit of trouble. I think we got sped up by their athleticism some offensively and we couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
The King’s Academy’s season ends with a record of 27-7, while Goodpasture (30-2) will face Notre Dame, a team TKA defeated for the region championship, in the Final Four on Thursday.
“It’s a privilege to work with the group that we have,” Jones said after the game. “There’s 13 high-character, great young men in that locker room. We have come a long way in the last three seasons, and that is 100-percent because of the work that our guys have put in. I’m so grateful and thankful for (seniors) Damjan Simun, Elia Bonjiorno and Zeke Connatser and what they’ve given to us.”