LEXINGTON – Warren Central has extended its stay in Lexington another day.
Behind a dominant fourth quarter, the Dragons were able to overcome an 11-point deficit and earn a hard-fought 66-62 win over Madisonville-North Hopkins in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen on Friday night at Rupp Arena.
“A big win,” Warren Central coach William Unseld said. “Kids fought. Unbelievable. They pulled together and they fought their tails off. I couldn’t be happier for a group. They never gave up. Got down 11 and kept fighting. We made enough stops to win the basketball game and now we’re in the Final Four.”
The Dragons – now 22-11 on the season – trailed 50-39 with 2:52 remaining in the third quarter but closed the period with a 9-0 run to get within 50-48 entering the fourth. WCHS then went on to outscore Madisonville 18-12 in the final frame to come out on top and earn a spot in its second straight Sweet 16 semifinal.
Warren Central will now meet Scott County (34-3) on Saturday in the semifinal round for the second time in as many years, as the Cardinals won last season’s meeting 75-46. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. CST.
“It’s just a blessing,” Warren Central senior guard Jamale Barber said. “We’ve got a good coach, we’ve got a good team and we’ve got players that don’t want to lose. When you have that and the chemistry that we’ve got over the years, it’s hard to beat us.”
Dre Boyd led the way for the Dragons with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Kobe Brents scored 15 points. Tegra Muleka tallied nine points and Tayshaun Bibb added 8 to round out the stat sheet.
WCHS shot 25-of-58 (43.1 percent) from the field and made seven 3-pointers. Defensively, the Dragons forced 17 turnovers and turned those takeaways into 17 points on the opposite end of the court.
The two sides played a competitive first quarter, as the scoreboard was knotted at 15-all at the 2:28 mark. Madisonville-North Hopkins scored seven straight points to take a 22-15 lead, but Geovonni Floyd snapped the quick run with a layup to cut Warren Central’s deficit to 22-17 after one.
Back-to-back baskets from Brents and Kamden Lawrence helped the Dragons tie it at 22-all early into the second, but Madisonville soon built a 33-26 lead at the 2:40 mark of the period.
Muleka scored on two straight possessions to bring Central within 33-31, but K’Suan Casey and Kenny White – who scored 19 points in the first half – recorded the final four points of the half to put the Maroons up 37-31 at the break.
White finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds for MNHHS, while Casey scored 16 points and pulled down 11 boards. The Maroons shot 51.1 percent (24-of-47) from the floor on the night.
White continued to make big plays in the second half, but Warren Central kept battling.
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“I told ‘em at halftime, I said, ‘We’re down 6 – and they’ve shot unbelievable. For us not to be down 20 tells me we’re gonna win this basketball game,’” Unseld said. “I said, ‘When we start making some shots and getting some stops, we’ve gotta chance to win the basketball game.’
“We did that.”
Free throws from Boyd and Bibb cut the Dragons’ deficit to 39-35 at the 5:27 mark of the third, but Casey scored back-to-back buckets to give Madisonville a 45-37 lead. A big 3-pointer from White from the right corner put the Maroons up 50-39 at the 2:45 mark.
Once trailing by 11, Central responded with a 9-0 run – highlighted by two straight 3s from Boyd and Tre Pillow – to climb back within 50-48 entering the fourth.
Muleka’s putback – followed by a layup from Kris Horn – helped the Dragons tie it at 52-all early into the final quarter. An and-one from Boyd with 5:36 remaining then put Warren Central up 55-54.
Things remained back-and-forth down the stretch, but the Dragons still held a tight 59-58 advantage with 2:49 left. A pair of free throws by Madisonville’s JD Gilbert tied it at 60-all, but Boyd quickly followed up with a smooth bucket to put Central up two with 1:13 to go.
A turnover by the Maroons with under a minute left gave the ball back to the Dragons – and they were able to knock down clutch free throws and hang on for the victory.
“These kids … we’ve got a wonderful group of kids,” said Unseld. “They play their tails off, they’re respectful and they just competed. They competed for one another – and that was the best thing to see how happy they were for each other.”