LOUISVILLE — The rosters for both Eastern and Jeffersontown are stocked with talent. But it was Eastern's special blend of poise and chemistry that proved to be the difference, as the Eagles pulled away for a 73-51 win in the 7th Region boys' high school basketball finals Tuesday night in front of a packed house at Bellarmine University's Knights Hall.
It showed up early as the Eagles, ranked first in the state, calmly dug themselves out of a 7-0 hole. And it showed up late when Eastern, whose core group of seniors has played together since they were freshmen, blitzed the weary Chargers with a 17-0 run to finish the game.
The Eagles advanced to next week's PNC/KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena, where they will play 4th Region winner Warren Central.
"We always preach that we're a family," said Eastern Coach Jason Couch. "We've got guys on the floor who have each other's backs. We've been together three, four years, and even through adversity we've found ways to win."
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The Chargers scored seven points in the first 90 seconds. Defensively, J-town went to a triangle-and-two to contain Eastern guard Remy Abell, and for the most part it worked as Abell struggled through a 1-for-6 shooting performance in the first half.
But the Eagles got timely outside shooting in the first half from 6-foot-9 senior Kameron Woods, who drilled four threes, and reserve guard Chris Taylor, who hit both of his shots from behind the arc. Woods' triple to start the second quarter gave Eastern its first lead at 18-16, and the Eagles took a 37-34 lead at halftime.
"I really expanded my range in the off-season, and this was the perfect time to show it," Woods said. "They were backing off me."
Couch said Woods, who has signed to play for Butler, has really come on from the perimeter after struggling early in the season.
"He was shooting it well this summer," Couch said. "Then at the start of the year I think he was forcing it a bit trying to show he was good enough to go to Butler. But (assistant coach) Joe Rogers has done a good job these last couple of weeks of calming him down and getting his confidence back up."
The third quarter was a draw as Eastern maintained its three-point lead at 49-46. Tony Kimbro Jr. hit a three to bring J-town to within 56-51, but the Chargers wouldn't score again.
Woods hit two free throws to push the lead back up to seven, then Abell, who has signed with Bradley, took over. He sliced through the middle of a gassed J-town defense for a finger roll to make it 60-51, then he delivered an acrobatic layup and three-point play to push the lead to double figures at 63-51.
Abell, who also had a highlight-reel three-point play dunk over Kimbro in the third quarter, scored 15 of his game-high 17 points in the second half. Woods finished with 16, and Arman Marks had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
"They came at me with that triangle-and-two, but I trusted my teammates to make shots," Abell said.
Afterward, Couch touted Abell for Mr. Basketball.
"I guarantee you he's the best in the state who's played in Kentucky for four years," he said. "That's not a knock on anybody else. That's just a fact."
Kimbro, who played all but a minute, finished with 16 points and eight rebounds to lead J-town (25-6).
"I think Tony might have gotten winded there at the end," Coach Jeff Morrow said. "I didn't get to give him much of a break."
It was J-town's third straight loss to Eastern since knocking them off in the finals of the King of the Bluegrass in December. .
"Eastern deserves credit, but I'm still proud of our guys," Morrow said. "We could have folded."
EASTERN (30-2) — Taylor 2-4 0-0 6, Abell 7-15 3-6 17, Sanford 4-6 1-3 11, Clements 1-1 0-0 2, Corlew 1-1 0-0 2, Gaines 2-4 0-1 4, Blade 1-1 0-0 2, Woods 5-11 2-4 16, Marks 4-9 3-3 11, Garmon 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 28-54 10-16 73.
JEFFERSONTOWN (25-6) — Dorsey 5-12 0-0 10, Cross 2-8 2-2 8, Kimbro 6-14 2-6 16, Hagan 0-1 0-0 0, Price 4-9 0-0 8, Russell 3-6 0-0 9, Ross 0-3 0-4 0. Totals 20-53 4-12 51.
Eastern 15 22 12 24—73
Jeffersontown 16 18 12 5—51