116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — How about playing best two out of three, winner takes all?
The Cougars were game.
Third-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy defeated familiar foe, Linn-Mar, 54-48, Friday night at home in a Class 4A substate semifinal. The win was the second for the Cougars (19-3) in three meetings with the Lions (12-11) this season. With the victory, Kennedy is just one win away from reaching the state tournament for the first time since 2017.
“They just match us really well,” said Kennedy Coach Jon McKowen. “They’ve got bigs that match our bigs. They’ve got good, quick, physical guards that match our quick guards. So we knew it was going to be a battle.”
Sophomore Cyrus Courtney came off the bench and led the way for the Cougars down the stretch, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the second half.
“Usually, it’s come and rebound and bring the energy off the bench,” Courtney said. “Tonight, it was just attack. I took it to the rim every time.”
Kennedy never led in the first half, but finished the final 3:15 of the second quarter on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 24-all at intermission.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth slugfest featuring five lead changes and two ties. The Cougars, again, went on a 6-0 run to finish the quarter and took a 41-36 lead into the fourth.
Jaxson Young, who paced Linn-Mar with 20 points, battled hard and gave the Lions a 46-45 lead with 4:56 to go following a strong drive to the basket and finish.
“Whoever was going to come out on top was just going to have to have a better last four minutes,” McKowen said.
The Cougars did just that.
After alternating leads yet again, Courtney hit a 3 and the Cougars took a 50-48 lead with 2:58 left.
“Cyrus Courtney led us in scoring tonight, but some of our guys that really score at a high rate didn’t shoot much in the fourth quarter,” McKowen said. “Just because Cyrus was rolling and that was the matchup that looked best for us.”
Colby Dolphin iced the game for Kennedy by going 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 36 seconds. Dolphin finished with 12 points. Kenzie Reed also finished in double figures for Kennedy with 11.
“I was definitely really nervous, but you just have to take a deep breath,” Dolphin said. “I know my teammates have my back. So it just helped that they trusted me.”
Linn-Mar won the first matchup between the teams on Dec. 17.
Following that loss, Kennedy went a full two months without dropping a contest, rattling off 15 consecutive wins — one of which came against Linn-Mar on Jan. 21.
“It felt good to beat them two times,” said Courtney. “After that first loss, we just had to get it back.”
The Cougars’ win streak came to an end after dropping a 75-66 contest to Cedar Falls on Feb. 17.
With Friday’s win, Kennedy hopes it’s sparked a new win streak that will carry deep into the state tournament.
“Find a way,” said McKowen. “We’ve preached to our kids all year, different person every night. Just figure out who’s got the hot hand, who’s rolling, and they’ll take us to victory.”
The Cougars will take on Cedar Rapids Washington Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Solon in the substate finals with a trip to Des Moines on the line.
“Last year we came up short, so this year we have that in the back of our minds,” said Dolphin. “We want to make it there. We have a sour feeling from losing it last year. We’re just excited to be in that position again to go to state.”
“It would mean everything,” said Courtney. “No matter who we play, it’s going to be a good game and I hope we come out with a W.”