DES MOINES — How to win at the state tournament. Get behind by 21 points in the first half and go from there.
OK, that recipe won’t win you many games. Very, very few down here at Wells Fargo Arena.
But Cedar Rapids Kennedy ended up with one of those very, very few Wednesday afternoon in the Class 4A quarterfinals. The Cougars somehow suddenly and shockingly flipped what appeared to be a certain loss into a 55-47 win over Dubuque Hempstead.
Don’t try and explain it, boys. Just accept it and move on the semifinals.
“When you’re in the final eight, you’ve got to play well for 32 minutes,” said Kennedy Coach Jon McKowen. “We played exceptionally well for the last 16, so we were able to make up for that first half and started making a little run back at them. That’s kind of been what this group has been about this year. They’re together, they worked hard together in the offseason, they worked hard in practice together. They never quit on each other.”
Hempstead (18-6) beat Kennedy (19-5) by seven in the regular season, and it seemed the Mustangs were on their way to about a 77-point win here. After reserve guard Curtis Martin III went on an eight-point run by himself, this was a 32-11 game with 3:54 left in the opening half.
But, my, how things changed at that juncture. Kennedy scored nine points in a row and eventually cut its deficit to 34-20 at the break.
It scored the first 15 points of the second half, a Derrick Diggins pull-up jumper putting the Cougars ahead, 35-34. That’s a 24-2 run to you and me.
Kennedy led by three after three, and Hempstead never caught back up.
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“Our confidence never really went away,” Diggins said. “We had to take baby steps, and that’s what we were trying to do.”
Those baby steps turned into dinosaur steps.
“That’s a big deficit to come back from,” said Kennedy guard Jackson Foley, who tied with Diggins for team-high scoring honors with 14. “We all knew that if we started hitting shots and getting stops, that we could come back from it.”
You can’t underestimate how important were fouls. Three Hempstead starters picked up three fouls each in the first half and three eventually fouled out.
Kennedy seized on that, making 26 of 35 from the free-throw line.
“I think we were too overconfident,” Hempstead’s Connor Duax said. “Throughout the season, we were told to treat the second half as if it was a new game, 0-0. We didn’t come out like we should have, knowing what was there for us. We overlooked them, I think.”
“In games like this, you have to get to the line,” McKowen said. “The most 3-pointers made in the tournament so far is eight in a game. One of the 1A teams made eight, I think. So it’s not like teams are making 15 3-pointers in this arena. So having known that, we talked about getting to the line, attacking downhill.”
So now Kennedy gets another crack at top-ranked and top-seeded Iowa City West, which beat it by 30 in the regular season. The Trojans looked a tad vulnerable in a close Friday afternoon quarterfinal win over Newton, so you never know.
Yeah, you never know. This one was proof.
“To play that well in the second half is pretty special on a stage like this,” McKowen said.
AT DES MOINES
C.R. KENNEDY (55): Drake Brewster 2-9 8-11 13, Matt Berst 0-2 0-1 0, Malik Haynes 1-4 7-8 10, Derrick Diggins 4-7 5-9 14, Jackson Foley 3-6 6-6 14, Nick Duehr 1-3 0-0 2, Isaiah Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Ki Jenkins 1-2 0-0 2, Andrew Basquin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-34 26-35 55.
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DUBUQUE HEMPSTEAD (47): Connor Duax 2-8 2-4 8, Tyler Cooksley 1-8 0-0 2, Keith Johnson 2-5 2-2 6, Lucas Duax 2-8 1-2 6, Marshon Crowder 2-6 0-0 4, Curtis Martin III 6-9 4-4 19, LeShaun Evans 0-1 2-2 2, Wil Courtney 0-0 0-0 0, Trevor Sindberg 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-46 11-14 47.
Halftime — Hempstead 34, Kennedy 20. 3-point goals — Kennedy 5-15 (Haynes 1-3, Brewster 1-4, Berst 0-2, Diggins 1-1, Foley 2-3, Duehr 0-1, Jenkins 0-1), Hempstead 6-19 (L. Duax 1-3, C. Duax 2-5, Crowder 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Cooksley 0-4, Martin III 3-4, Evans 0-1). Rebounds — Kennedy 25 (Berst 7), Hempstead 32 (Crowder 9). Total fouls — Kennedy 15, Hempstead 26. Fouled out — L. Duax, Crowder, Martin III. Assists — Kennedy 7 (Brewster 4), Hempstead 8 (C. Duax, Crowder 2). Turnovers — Kennedy 8, Hempstead 13.
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