For 23 seconds, the team with the most losses in boys’ state tournament history was on top.
Chesney Weick, a Meade County sophomore, hit a free throw with 4:28 left in the first quarter to put the Green Wave ahead, 1-0.
Cooper’s Adam Kunkel quickly answered with a steal and a driving layup for the Jaguars’ first points of a 54-39 win in the final first-round game of the 100th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen Thursday night at Rupp Arena.
Box score: Cooper 54, Meade County 39
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Kunkel scored the first five points in the first Sweet Sixteen in Cooper’s program history and finished with a game-high 16 for the Jaguars, who will play Collins in the quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Meade County hung with the Jaguars for about two and a half quarters before Cooper used a 12-3 run to create some distance after the Green Wave got to within two points on a pair of Dawson Gagel free throws with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
“We knew they were coming and they were gonna come with energy,” Kunkel said. “We pride ourself on our defensive end so we got ourselves going defensively, and we know that our offense is at its best when we get going defensively.”
Cooper’s defense afforded it 21 points off 19 Meade County turnovers; the Green Wave got only three points off six miscues by the Jaguars. Cooper shot only 37 percent for the game — a number boosted by a 4-for-7 clip from the field in the fourth quarter — but didn’t allow Meade to shoot better than 40 percent in any quarter and held the Green Wave to 30-percent shooting overall.
“Offensively, you’re gonna have nights where it’s not there,” Cooper Coach Tim Sullivan said. “Tonight we hung our hat on our defense and then eventually made shots.”
Kunkel had a game-high four steals and brought down eight rebounds to match Meade County senior James Baker for the game high in that category. Baker finished with seven points and six blocks, but also committed seven turnovers.
“I knew with their press, they were gonna come after us, and that kind of worried me in the back of my mind,” Meade County Coach Jason Tripure said. “I said, ‘If we handle the press, we’re gonna have a shot and if we don’t, it’s gonna be like it is.’ With 19 turnovers, obviously we didn’t handle the press really well.”
The return of Baker, who missed much of the regular season after tearing a ligament in his left hand, before the 11th District tournament allowed the Green Wave to make a surprise run to the Sweet Sixteen, to which they brought more losses (21) than any team in the previous 99 editions. Said Tripure:
“I tell ’em, they’re not the most skilled team I’ve coached here in the last few years but they’ve definitely got the heart of a champion, and then that’s why we won our region championship, because they didn’t quit and they just kept battling.”