Madison Central, coming off its first 44th District tournament loss in more than two decades, overcame a nine point fourth quarter deficit Thursday to knock off No. 8 Lexington Christian, 45-44, in the opening round of the 11th Region Tournament at Eastern Kentucky’s Paul S. McBrayer Arena.
With the score tied 44-44 and Lexington Christian trying to hold for the last shot, Madison Central senior Michael Roberts knew the Indians needed to make something happen. So, he did.
“(Coach) told us to stretch the defense out at the end, and I just anticipated the pass (to the wing),” Roberts said.
Roberts sprinted down court where he was hammered by LCA’s Kyle Rode with nine seconds left. He got up, egged on the roaring Madison Central student section and stepped to the line.
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His first shot missed. LCA called timeout.
“It feels like the whole world’s coming down on you,” Roberts said of the moment. “But you just have to believe in yourself and have confidence. That’s what Coach (Allen) Feldhaus preaches to us every day.”
That was Feldhaus’ message in the huddle.
“I knew he’d hit one of them. He’s that type of kid,” Feldhaus said. “I told him: ‘That one don’t matter Mike, just get us the lead and let us count on our defense to make that stop and win the game.’”
The next one swished through, giving the Indians their first lead, 45-44, in more than 10 minutes. Madison Central still had fouls to give without sending LCA to the free throw line and used one to take another couple of seconds off the clock.
Rode took the inbounds pass and drove to the lane for a runner with two seconds left, but the shot clanged hard off the left iron and into the hands of Roberts.
“That’s great tournament atmosphere and both teams flat-out laying it on the line,” Feldhaus said. “I was just really happy for my kids because I thought they showed some fight tonight after our district championship debacle.”
Last Friday, Madison Southern broke the Indians’ state record 21-year streak as district champions, holding Madison Central to 33 points.
“I was worried about that because we just didn’t have any fight in us (Friday),” Feldhaus said. “I didn’t think we had a will to win. But tonight, we definitely, definitely did.”
The game plan was simple: pack in the zone and let LCA shoot all the threes they wanted. The Indians relied on sophomore big man Isaiah Cozart and a collapsing defense to clog up the lane. But for a while, the strategy didn’t look like it would pay off.
LCA hit enough threes to build a six point lead in the first half, going 6-for-16 from beyond the arc. Senior Nathan Harper drained four of those, including a buzzer-beater to put the Eagles up 26-23 at halftime.
“I said ‘we’re going to give that up, we’re going to have to give up some of those threes. If you can just hang in there in the last two or three minutes and be close, maybe they’ll tighten up,’” Feldhaus said he told his team.
The lead exchanged twice in the third period as Madison Central saw the Eagles hit back-to-back threes from Chandler Stewart and Carter Hendrickson on each side of the quarter break. LCA’s lead swelled to nine on a pair of Hendrickson free throws with 6:03 to go in the game. Hendrickson led LCA in scoring with 13 points.
A Roberts three-pointer cut the lead back to 41-35 moments later, and Feldhaus called a timeout. The Indians then put on a full-court press that immediately paid dividends.
LCA committed three consecutive turnovers helping Madison Central take a 42-41 lead on Isaiah Minter’s three-pointer with just under four minutes left.
“We just tried to get them to tighten up,” Feldhaus said. “They were the favorite, and we were the district loser. That’s what I said. ‘Just get to the end of the game with a chance to win, and I think we can pull it out.’”
A three-pointer by Rode, who finished with just five points, nearly 10 below his average, put the Eagles back up 44-42. Minter answered with a drive and a runner to tie it at 44-44 with 2:11 left. Minter led all scorers with 16 points.
LCA Coach Nate Valentine, who led the Eagles to their first 43rd District title and first-ever appearance in the 11th Region tournament, lamented the Eagles’ shooting woes after the game. LCA shot just 16-of-51 from the field and 10-of-29 from three-point range.
“They just packed it in and made us make shots,” Valentine said. “We really didn’t want to shoot 29 threes, but they way they were guarding us, we felt like we had to give our guys the freedom to take those shots.”
No team faced a more difficult road to try to get to the Sweet Sixteen, Valentine said after the game. “I’m proud of everything they accomplished.”
They knocked out defending champion No. 11 Paul Laurence Dunbar and then topped No. 22 Lexington Catholic in its own gym, “and then, ‘congratulations,’ you draw Madison Central, who was ranked No. 18 last week,” Valentine said. “The road we had, you had to string together eight or nine really, really good games to be the last guy standing.”
Madison Central 45, Lexington Christian 44
Madison Central (45): Gerald 6, Cozart 12, Minter 16, Miller 5, Roberts 6.
Lexington Christian (44): Hendrickson 13, Rode 5, Hall 4, Stewart 7, Harper 12, Hacker 3.