Lexington Christian Academy’s offense looked anemic in the first half of its 11th Region semifinal bout with No. 3 Madison Central on Saturday. Open looks were available, but the No. 5 Eagles shot only 26.1 percent on their way to a 10-point halftime deficit.
The 15-minute break made a world of difference; LCA found its groove and rallied for a 58-52 victory to secure the program’s first berth to the 11th Region championship game Monday night at Eastern Kentucky University’s McBrayer Arena.
Sophomore Ezekiel Grier played only a little more than 16 minutes but provided a huge lift to the Eagles after the break. Nine of his 14 points came in the fourth quarter, in which he made three consecutive triples over a two-minute span to turn a 37-36 deficit into a 45-39 lead with 5:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. Madison Central responded with a 4-0 run before Grier assisted on a Carter Hendricksen three ball with 3:51 left that swelled the Eagles’ advantage to 48-43.
Indians Coach Allen Feldhaus lauded Grier’s impact for the Eagles.
“Let’s be honest, the difference in the game is when they bring a guy off the bench that’s averaging 2.5 points a game and he hits threes from everywhere, and one from way out there,” Feldhaus said. “ … We knew we couldn’t go man until we had to and once we did, they could just muscle us.”
Hendricksen with 37.4 seconds left converted an and-one layup and hit the free throw to secure LCA’s position, 54-47.
Junior star Kyle Rode led LCA with 22 points and five assists. He was 5-for-6 from the free-throw line inside the final three minutes. Hendricksen had 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
Rode, who gave LCA its first lead late in the third quarter, said the Eagles didn’t let their first-half struggles get inside their head.
“We just stayed together, talked to each other and stayed within in ourselves. We did a much better job in the second half,” Rode said. “Coach did a great job of adjusting us to what to do and how to think. We knew coming in it was gonna be a tough game so coming away with the victory was really key.”
Eagles Coach Nate Valentine said Madison Central — which outside of junior Isaiah Cozart was dwarfed by the Eagles, who boast three 6-foot-6 bigs — out-competed his team in the first half.
“And that’s frustrating when you start lifting weights in June, and start playing and work your tail off, then all of a sudden you get to the biggest game of your career and your season and you don’t perform,” Valentine said.
Lexington Christian was more aggressive out of the locker room. The Eagles attempted only two free throws in the first half but went 11-for-13 in the second. They negated a 2-for-13 albatross from behind the three-point arc in the opening frame with a blistering 8-for-14 long-ball percentage in half two.
Isaiah Minter led the Indians with 14 points while Dustin Gerald had 13. Cozart, who’s on pace to become the state’s career leader in blocked shots, had 11 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, improving his career total to 531. He needs 11 next season to break the record of 541 set by Paintsville’s J.R. VanHoose in 1998).
LCA improved to 6-0 at EKU this season. The Eagles won all four of their games en route to their first All “A” Classic state title and defeated Frankfort for their first region-tournament victory on Wednesday.
Valentine was asked about the finals matchup, where LCA will meet defending region titlist Scott County.
“This is gonna be a tough game. I know a lot of people have already crowned Scott County as the champion,” Valentine said of the matchup. “ ... The only two teams that could go to the Sweet Sixteen are the two teams that play on Monday night, so we’ll see who that is. We’re just glad to be there.”