(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
COLUMBIA -- Their desire to capture 'Sweet 16' can be summed up with their relentless rebounding efforts under the basket.
The Scott County Central Braves defeated the Drexel Bobcats 79-72 on Saturday to win their fourth Class 1 state championship in a row and their 16th overall.
Scott Central (22-10) holds the Missouri state record for the most championships statewide.
"That's our number one goal. It's been almost all season -- "rebounding," which was said in unison by Scott Central head coach Kenyon Wright, Dominique Porter and Steward Johnson while sitting together in the interview room at Mizzou Arena. "If you out-rebound them, you have a chance to win."
Rebounding has been a point of emphasis for the vertically challenged Braves all season. They bewildered, Drexel, a team that have four starters over 6-0, as opposed to Scott Central having none, by out-rebounding them 39-36.
"How bad do you want it?," Porter said about how they go about grabbing every possible rebound. "It seemed like we wanted the ball way more than what they did. We wanted to come out as number one. We went to the boards hard and done what we had to do."
At one point, the Braves fell behind 19-9 in the rebounding category. That, along with Drexel's C.J. Bolton scoring the Bobcats' first 13 points, had Scott Central trailing 18-13 after the first quarter.
"We kind of ran where the ball was going," Porter explained after being how they overcame their rebounding deficit "Just tried to box out the cutters and stuff that were coming in trying to rebound hard and just put a butt on them. Just out-block them out and the ball just came to us.
"Just battling. That's what coach told us before we even played. Loose balls was what was going to give us the game."
Although they fell behind by as much as seven points in the first quarter, the Braves made one of their famous runs sparked by their defensive pressure.
With the scored tied at 27, Porter sank two free throws with 2:55 left in the second quarter to give the Braves a lead they would never relinquish.
Four turnovers forced by Scott Central in the final three and a half minutes led to a 14-0 run to end the first half. The Braves led 38-27 with Porter carrying his team with 15 points.
"These guys went out and took it just like I told them to do," Wright said. "I said, 'If you want it, there it is. Go get it.'"
Wright credited "adjustments" to their defensive press to lead to a 25-9 outscoring of the Bobcats in the second quarter behind 15 Drexel turnovers.
"Our press was just enough to get them I think," Wright said. "We tweaked the press just a little bit and it worked."
Although Bolton, who finished with a game-high 35 points had his way, the Braves were lucky enough that his outburst didn't beat them. Despite keeping a close eye on him, Scott Central decided to focus a lot of their attention on 6-8 Drexel senior Chris Wilson, who finished with five points and seven rebounds.
"You have to pick one," Wright said. "You live or die by one or the other and luckily, his 35 didn't kill us. We come down and scored on them when we needed to."
Although the Braves went up by as much as 13 points in the third quarter, Drexel ended the third quarter on a 10-4 run that cut Scott Central's advantage to just four points, 52-48 going into the final frame.
The Bobcats (26-5) came as close as two points twice in the fourth -- once after a 3-pointer by Justin Thomas and again following a jumper by Javyn Johnston.
However, a 13-3 run, that included five points from sophomore Larandis Banks, who scored 12 of his 20 total points in the fourth quarter, silenced Drexel and put the Braves in a state of celebration as the final seconds ticked away.
"Competitor," Wright said about Banks. "He's been a competitor for us all year. We know that whenever he steps up and wants that shot, we're going to let him take it because he knocks it down more times than not."
Dominique Porter scored a team-high 28 points and pulled down 14 rebounds as one of two seniors to have three state championship rings -- just like his cousin Otto Porter.
"I looked at Dom right there at the end and I said, 'Where's Otto at?," Wright joked. "Who needs Otto? We love him but who needs him?"
And it was after the departure of Porter and the players before him that had some doubting the abilities this version of the Braves had what it took to bring home No. 16.
"Not a lot of people believed in them I promise you that," said Wright. "After watching us this season and doing this and doing that."
"Speechless," Porter added. "Just coming up here from everybody telling us that we weren't going to make it is a great feeling."
After years of being role players, the leadership shown by both Dominique Porter and Steward didn't go unnoticed by Wright over the season.
"I don't think it's a different feel for me. It's these guys right here," Wright said, as he motioned towards Steward and Porter. "These guys right here were the role players last year and now these guys stepped up and took one over. It was all these two all the way through."
"I know last year we had great players and this and that, but these guys, to me, are great players because they're great competitors. Battling, rebounding and doing the things they had to do to win this thing means a lot to me. It shows me that they wanted it."
SCOTT CENTRAL (79)
Larandis Banks 8-13 1-2 20, Jaylen Porter 4-10 1-2 9, Antonio Johnson 4-7 2-4 10, Dominique Porter 8-20 12-13 28, LaMarcus Steward 5-12 2-2 12, Tyler Masters 0-0 0-0 0, Steven Minner 0-0 0-0 0, Tevin Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-62 18-24 79.
Cody Russell 1-3 0-0 3, Blake Seba 3-8 0-1 8, Javyn Johnston 4-15 0-0 10, C.J. Bolton 14-21 1-1 35, Justin Thomas 4-5 0-0 11, Chris Wilson 2-8 1-2 5, Trevor Cooley 0-7 0-0 0, Trevor Stewart 0-0 0-0 0, Keifer Shipley 0-0 0-0 0, Eric Roberts 0-0 0-0 0, Brandon Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-67 4-5 72.
3-Point Goals -- Scott Central 3-13 (Banks 3-7, D. Porter 0-3, J. Porter 0-2, Steward 0-1), Drexel 12-29 (Bolton 6-11, Thomas 3-4, Johnston 2-7, Russell 1-3, Cooley 0-3, Seba 0-1). Fouled out -- Seba. Rebounds -- Scott Central 39 (D. Porter 14), Drexel 36 (Johnston, Bolton 7). Assists -- Scott Central 4 (Banks, Steward 2), Drexel 19 (Cooley 10). Total Fouls -- Scott Central 12, Drexel 21.