Chris Lofton turned 33 in March. He almost scored his age and led KBC to an upset against DeMarcus Cousins’ team in The Basketball Tournament on Saturday.
Lofton, a Mr. Basketball winner out of Mason County High School before a standout career at the University of Tennessee, scored a game-high 32 points but it wasn’t enough for KBC, a team sponsored by the Lexington-based Kentucky Basketball Commission and that featured several players with ties to the commonwealth. Loyalty is Love, for whom Cousins is the GM, won 91-80 to advance to the championship round of the Lexington Regional.
“I’m 33 and still probably a sore loser,” said Lofton, who shot 11 of 16 and 8-for-13 from behind the three-point line. “I’m still a kid I guess. It’s hard to lose, I hate losing, but I give all the credit to Loyalty. They’re a great team, they’re stacked and they were the better team today.”
Darius Johnson-Odom, a former All-Big East selection at Marquette University who had a cup of coffee in the NBA, scored 20 points to lead LIL. Pierre Jackson, a two-time All-Big 12 selection at Baylor, had a game-high 11 assists — one less than KBC had as a team — as well as 6 points and 4 rebounds.
Lofton scored 14 points in the first quarter and had 22 at the break but LIL contained him better down the stretch. Former Western Kentucky University star AJ Slaughter, who scored 34 points in KBC’s opening-round win over the Peoria All-Stars, was limited to 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting Saturday.
“Don’t let the light-skinned dudes shoot,” Jackson said with a laugh. “Both of ’em. We weren’t able to keep Chris where we wanted him.”
KBC pulled within three points, 83-80, before the Elam Ending (a TBT rule in which a target score is determined to guarantee every game ends on a basket) went into effect. LIL ended the game on an 8-0 run, capped by a putback by Willie Reed, the first overall pick of the most recent NBA G-League Draft.
LIL is now four wins away from the final prize: a $2 million reward whose recipient will be decided early next month.
“We’re trying to win that money,” said Reed, who’s played 152 games in the NBA for the Clippers, Heat, Nets and Pistons. “We’re all competitive and we all want to win and get better.”
What does Reed think of Cousins as a GM?
“Boogie’s gonna be Boogie,” he said with a laugh.
Four LIL players finished in double-figure scoring. Cousins’ squad got 17 from Isaiah Austin, another ex-Baylor star who was a projected lottery pick prior to the 2014 NBA Draft but was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, ending his stateside career before it started. Reed and Cody Demps, who played for Sacramento State, each had 10.
Daniel Orton played only nine minutes for LIL but was efficient in that time, scoring 5 points on 2-for-3 shooting, including a three-pointer.
Former Lexington hoopers Vic Moses (Henry Clay) and Tyler Wilkerson (Lafayette) scored 10 points each for KBC. Anthony Hickey, another Mr. Basketball winner out of Christian County before college stops at LSU and Oklahoma State, had 8 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Bluegrass Boys — a team featuring several former UK players — fell to D2, a team comprised of former Division II standouts, in the TBT’s first round, 77-62, late Friday night.
Marcus Lee, who scored 15 points for the Kentucky-based squad, expected some strong punches for as long as the Bluegrass Boys lasted in the 64-team event.
“That’s how it’s been our whole career,” Lee said. “You learn pretty quick, if you’ve got Bluegrass Boys on you, you’ve got Kentucky on you, they’re coming for your head because of who you are. No matter where we end up playing or what we’re doing. ... We can’t forget that we always have a target on our back, no matter what day it is.”
D2, the seventh seed in Lexington, almost scored another upset in the semifinal round but couldn’t fend off a late comeback from No. 3 Fort Wayne Champs, which won 83-81 after a pair of free throws by former Wofford College star Cameron Jackson.
Former University of Georgia star Travis Leslie had 17 points and 7 rebounds to lead Fort Wayne Champs. Stephaun Branch, a West Georgia product who played all of last season with the Salt Lake City Stars in the NBA G-League, scored a game-high 24 points and had 9 rebounds and 6 steals for D2.
The Basketball Tournament
Lexington Regional schedule
At Frederick Douglass High School
No. 1 Loyalty is Love 91, No. 4 KBC 80
No. 3 Fort Wayne Champs 83, No. 7 D2 81
2 p.m.: No. 1 Loyalty is Love vs. No. 3 Fort Wayne Champs (ESPN)