When asked what his school’s often used sports slogan was following Saturday night’s Division I boys basketball district final, Rogers senior guard Tony Kynard paused, and then needed a hint before responding.
“Go Red?” Kynard asked.
If this had been Jeopardy, that was about the only answer Kynard and his three-year running mate, Clemmye Owens, didn’t have at the ready against ninth-ranked Central Catholic in a masterful 60-39 victory at Savage Arena.
Kynard and Owens, who will each play in college at Bethune-Cookman in Florida, were not ready to go on spring break, or end their high school careers.
PHOTO GALLERY: Rogers boys upset Central Catholic
Kynard fired in 20 points, and Owens added 18 to lead Rogers (18-7) into Thursday's 7 p.m. regional semifinal here against Northern Lakes league champion Anthony Wayne (20-4), which defeated Mansfield Senior in a district final at Bowling Green.
“I felt from my first shot that I could make a few shots tonight, so I took more than I usually take,” said Kynard, who was 9-of-16 from the field. “Everybody helped. It wasn’t just me and Clemmye.
“We got help from our bigs, because [Central] was outrebounding us at the beginning. We knew we were better. People didn’t give us the respect that we deserved. But we like playing as the underdogs. It makes us work harder.”
DeVonte Pratt added 11 points for the Rams, and Keandre Gilmer grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
“We are the only City League team left, and everybody had us [at a] 10 percent chance of winning,” Rogers coach Earl Morris said. “Tonight, we earned respect. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to the regional Thursday night.”
It was the second straight upset for the Rams against a state-ranked team from the Three Rivers Athletic Conference. Rogers had defeated fifth-ranked St. John’s Jesuit 66-55 in Thursday night’s district semifinal.
These victories, following their one-sided wins over Waite (91-44) and Southview (74-44) in sectional play, are further confirmation that the Rams have completely shaken off their upset loss to Start in the City League playoff semifinals after having gone 10-0 in CL play.
“When we lost to Start, we came together as a team,” Morris said. “I’ve always said, if we play good defense, we can beat anybody. Everybody played well tonight, and the way Tony Kynard played tonight is why he’s going to Bethune-Cookman on a full ride. He put us on his back tonight, him and Clemmye.”
“After the City League disappointment, everybody thought we were going to slack down and be in a slump,” Owens said. “But we just forgot about that loss and moved on from it.”
Like it did against St. John’s, Rogers started slowly, and was unable to gain control the defensive boards early on. The Rams fell behind 8-3 on a Deontae Cole put-back basket for Central midway in the first quarter.
But, as if flipping on a switch, Rogers caught fire offensively and took the game’s momentum for the remainder of the half.
Owens ignited what grew into a 21-7 run on a runner from the left side with 4 minutes, and three seconds left in the first quarter.
After Central’s C.J. Bussey (11 points) drove for a layup, Kynard closed the quarter with a 3-pointer from the right corner to pull Rogers within 15-14.
That was the start of a game-breaking 13-0 run by the Rams, a surge book-ended by another Kyand 3-pointer which put Rogers up 24-15 with 4:30 left in the half.
Central (19-6) gained a bit of momentum late in the half when backup guard Marcus Winters hit a 3-pointer six seconds before the break to cut Rogers’ lead to 29-24.
The Irish appeared to be back in the game early in the third quarter when Bussey and Deontae Cole sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a bucket from Rams forward Fadil Robinson to get within 31-30 at the 5:32 mark.
But Rogers was not to be rattled on this night.
Owens answered with 12-footer along the left side of the lane, Pratt converted a layup off a steal, and then added a 10-foot runner for a 37-30 lead with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
With Kynard closing that period out on a pair of floaters from 10 feet away, Rogers took a 41-32 lead into the final quarter, then closed the game in style with a 19-7 surge.
“We started out playing them fast, and that was a mistake,” Central coach Jim Welling said. “We couldn’t get our guys to stop. You can’t play Rogers fast. You’ve got to control the tempo of the game, and we didn’t do that.
“All of a sudden, we’re forcing shots and not finishing plays, and we just got beat tonight by the better basketball team. That’s a good team, and they made us look pretty ugly.”
An Owens steal and dunk put the Rams up 50-35 with 5:40 to go, and the exclamation point to the win came when Kynard sent a cross-court lob to senior forward Tribune Dailey, who skied up to convert a two-handed slam dunk for Rogers’ final points with 3:34 remaining.
Rogers was 26 of 50 (52 percent) from the field, 2 of 3 at the line, and forced 13 Central turnovers. The Irish were 15 of 47 (32 percent) from the field, 4 of 10 from the line, and edged the smaller Rams 31-28 in rebounding.
Cole added eight points for Central, and Harris had six points and eight rebounds.