It took four tries, but Bowling Green’s seniors finally left Lexington with smiles on their faces.
Bowling Green defeated Cooper 67-56 in the 100th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen championship game Sunday afternoon in Rupp Arena. The 11,346 fans in attendance watched the Purples win their first basketball title in 17 state tournament appearances.
The Purples (36-2) finished the season with a 29-game win streak. Their only losses came on back-to-back nights as part of the King of the Bluegrass tournament — against Berkmar (Ga.) on Dec. 19 and Covington Catholic (whom Cooper beat in the 9th Region finals) on Dec. 20.
Terry Taylor had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Purples en route to Sweet Sixteen MVP honors. The Austin Peay signee scored all but two of his points in the second half.
“I told Terry he needed to be more Wilt Chamberlain and less (Anderson) Varejao tonight,” Bowling Green Coach DG Sherrill said. “Go in there and play.”
Taylor averaged 20.5 points and 11.8 rebounds through four state tournament games. His 47 rebounds in this tournament matched his 47 through nine previous state tournament games (he played spot minutes during Bowling Green’s three games as a freshman).
It was Bowling Green’s fourth straight trip to state, the last three ending at the hands of the eventual state champion. Covington Catholic defeated the Purples in the 2014 semifinals and they fell to Owensboro in the 2015 finals. Paul Laurence Dunbar rallied to defeat Bowling Green in the 2016 quarterfinals after the Purples led by double digits at halftime.
“It’s been really tough,” said Taylor, whose 153 points in 13 state tournament games are the 17th most all-time. “It really dawns on you whenever you go home and you think about it, that we lost to the eventual champion. If we would have won those, who knows? .
“We don’t look on that. We’re just gonna enjoy this time and celebrate.”
The Purples jumped to a 5-0 lead and led 10-3 after Zion Harmon, a star-in-the-making as an eighth-grader, scored eight points in the first five minutes Sunday. He led Bowling Green with 18 points but cooled after his hot start, finishing 3-for-10 from the field. Ten of his 12 came at the free-throw line.
“I wasn’t nervous in the beginning, but when I saw my shot wasn’t falling, my dad always tells me, ‘Do other things on the court to get the team the win,’” Harmon said. “So that’s what I did.”
Bowling Green led wire-to-wire and by double digits for much of the second half before Cooper pulled to within five points on a pair of free throws with 5:57 to go. The Purples responded with a 15-3 run to put the rally to bed.
“I’m so daggone proud of these kids because they fought and they didn’t quit,” Cooper Coach Tim Sullivan said.
Cooper’s Sean McNeil, a Bellarmine signee, had a game-high 20 points and six rebounds. He was 6-for-12 from behind the three-point line.
Bowling Green has made a name for itself on the football field of late. The Purples have won five of the last six Class 5A championships, including a 2012 win over Cooper. They became the seventh school to win the boys’ basketball title out of the 4th Region, joining Manual (1931), Breckinridge County (1965), Glasgow (1968), Edmonson County (1976), Logan County (1984) and Warren Central (2004).
“I can’t explain how blessed I am and how fortunate we are with these young men right here,” Sherrill said. “ ... This is a tournament of 16 champions, and the class and character of the coaches and players here ... to be able to come out of this thing as winners, it won’t sink in for a while.”
Attendance up a bit
The five-day attendance total finished at 92,437. That was 4,267 more than last year’s tournament, which was the lowest-attended event since 1994. The attendance from 2015-2017 (275,071) is the lowest three-year total since a stretch from 1976-1978 (264,121).
MVP — Terry Taylor, Bowling Green
Team — Zion Harmon, Bowling Green; Deangelo Wilson, Bowling Green; Dante Hendrix, Cooper; Adam Kunkel, Cooper; Sean McNeil, Cooper; Chance Moore, Fern Creek; Ahmad Price, Fern Creek; Chad Ohmer, Scott; Jake Ohmer, Scott; Clivonte Patterson, Ballard; Dominique Turner, Collins; Damon Tobler, Perry County Central; Cooper Robb, Scott County.