GRC topples Douglass in Central Kentucky clash for Sweet 16 title berth
Championship-forged resolve won out Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena.
George Rogers Clark defeated Frederick Douglass 51-44 to advance to the UK HealthCare Boys’ Sweet 16 championship game for a second year in a row. (The Cardinals lost to Warren Central, over whom they won the 2022 title.)
“I think we won by heart, I’m just gonna be honest,” GRC Coach Josh Cook said after the semfinals. “… It’s a grind sometimes. I can sit and tell y’all all day it’s not there, but there is some pressure involved. But these guys stepped up to the moment.”
Jerone Morton, last season’s Sweet 16 MVP, finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and two steals to lead the Cardinals (30-5). GRC avenged its only loss in the calendar year, a 63-52 defeat in Lexington on Feb. 7, and ended a historic — and unanticipated — season by the Broncos (33-3).
After losing region championship games in 2021 and 2022, Lexington’s newest high school broke through for its first 11th Region title earlier this month. After a 3-2 start, Douglass reeled off 30 straight wins, its last a furious comeback against Male in the Sweet 16 quarterfinals on Friday.
The Broncos trailed by 13 late in that contest before rallying. They found themselves in similar hole Saturday afternoon, albeit much earlier. Down 12 with 2:40 to play in the first half, Douglass scored five unanswered points to close the period and get within 28-21 at the break. Its run extended into a third quarter light on scoring; the Broncos outscored GRC 8-3 in the period to pull within a possession.
Tylon Webb gave Douglass its first — and only — lead of the game after hitting two free throws with 5:07 left in the fourth. Reshaun Hampton just 22 seconds later put GRC back in front with a corner triple, igniting an 8-0 run by the defending state champs.
Morton went 14 of 17 at the free-throw line, eight of the makes coming inside the final three minutes. His only miss in that stretch followed an and-one dunk that he finished through traffic — and attempted without Cook’s explicit approval.
“I told Coach Cook and everybody on the team that they’ve been playing with my bounce all year,” Morton said with a laugh. “I saw that (the defender) was flat and I knew he was going to take away the lob from Trent (Edwards), so I was like, ‘Why not?” I knew I was gonna get fouled and, luckily, it paid off in my favor.”
Douglass didn’t start two of its regular starters, Aveion Chenault and Kai Simpson, on Saturday. Coach Wes Scarberry said that decision was rooted in defensive adjustments. The pair checked in together with about 4 minutes left in the first quarter — Douglass trailed 9-2 — and didn’t exit for the remainder.
A later switch-up on defense helped get the Broncos back into the game.
“It was probably a bad move not going zone earlier, trying to slow them down,” Scarberry said. “That’s 100 percent on me. The guys fought their hearts out.”
Three of Douglass’ starters — Armelo Boone, Logan Busson and Chenault — are sophomores and along with freshman Terry Cayson comprise a returning quartet that should make it the 11th Region favorite next winter. They should get their first full offseason with Scarberry — he was named interim head coach in September — and have new motivation after crossing off a major milestone a couple weeks ago.
“He did a great job with us,” said Simpson, a senior who led Douglass with 13 points. “He came into a bad situation, honestly. … Douglass is in good hands, trust me.”
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