LEXINGTON, Ky. – So close the past three seasons, the Bowling Green High School boys basketball team finally broke through to win its first state championship Sunday.
Eighth-grader Zion Harmon scored 18 points and senior Terry Taylor added 16 points and 10 rebounds as the Purples beat Cooper 67-56 in the final of the 100th annual Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 in front of 11,346 fans at Rupp Arena.
Bowling Green (36-2) finished the season with a 29-game win streak and became just the second school in Kentucky history to win football and boys basketball state titles in the same school year. Trinity was the first to accomplish the feat in 2011-12.
Bowling Green was in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season and had lost to the eventual champion in each of the previous three – Covington Catholic in the 2014 semifinals, Owensboro on the 2015 final and Paul Dunbar in the 2016 quarterfinals.
“It just fueled the fire for us,” said senior guard DeAngelo Wilson, also a member of Bowling Green’s football team and a third-team all-state wide receiver who has signed to play football at Austin Peay. “We’ve had a bitter taste in our mouths since our freshman year. We’ve all grown as players, and we really wanted this one for our senior year. This is the most special one.”
Taylor (an Austin Peay basketball signee), Wilson (11 points, four assists, three steals) and Kyran Jones (11 points, eight rebounds) were the senior leaders for the Purples after getting a taste of Sweet 16 action as freshmen.
“They’ve done so much for our program and our school; I’m going to miss them,” Purples coach D.G. Sherrill said. “They played the last high school game played in this state this year and won the doggone thing. That’s pretty cool.”
Bellarmine University signee Sean McNeil hit 6 of 12 3-point shots and scored 20 points to lead No. 8 Cooper (31-5), which was playing in the Sweet 16 for the first time.
The Jaguars had done it with defense all season and hadn’t allowed more than 44 points to an opponent in their previous eight games.
But the Purples shot 51.4 percent (18 of 35) on Sunday and hit 7 of 17 3-point attempts.
“When they’re hitting 3s like that, I don’t know how you guard them,” Cooper coach Tim Sullivan said. “We knew we had to take away the inside and force them to try to hit outside shots. That’s what they did. … There’s a reason why they’re here and a reason they’re state champs. They’re that good.”
Bowling Green took an early 13-5 lead – getting two 3-pointers from Harmon and another from Wilson – and never trailed.
The Purples hit 5 of 12 3-point attempts on their way to a 30-21 halftime lead.
“I thought we ran really good stuff tonight,” Sherrill said. “We were focused offensively. There was a lot of communication. A very complete basketball game.”
Limited to just two points in the first half, the 6-foot-6 Taylor was a force in the third quarter. He scored 11 of his points in the period as the Purples took a 45-33 lead to the fourth. Taylor was named the tournament’s MVP.
“I told Terry he needed to be more Wilt Chamberlain and less (Anderson) Varejao tonight,” Sherrill said. “Go in there and play. … Terry Taylor is a bell cow, man.”
Cooper pulled within 45-40 on Brayden Runion’s two free throws with 5:57 remaining, but Bowling Green answered with a 16-3 run to put the game away. Jones and Harmon both scored five points during the surge as the Purples took a 61-43 lead with 1:41 remaining.
When it was over, Bowling Green’s seniors could celebrate the following accomplishments over their four seasons – 127-18 record, four regional titles, two trips to the state final and the school’s first state championship.
“Third time wasn’t the charm, but maybe the fourth time was,” Sherrill said. “Words can’t explain how blessed I am and how fortunate we are to coach these young men. … To be able to come out of this things as winners won’t sink in for a while. It’s a pretty incredible feeling.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
BOWLING GREEN 67, COOPER 56
COOPER (31-5) – Dante Hendrix 9p; Adam Kunkel 13p, 4a; Brayden Runion 8p; Chris McNeil 0p, 5a; Sean McNeil 20p, 6r; Tripp Pittman 2p; Blaine Walters 2p; Noah Shidler 2p.
BOWLING GREEN (36-2) – Kyran Jones 11p, 8r; Terry Taylor 16p, 10r; DeAngelo Wilson 11p, 4a, 3s; Zion Harmon 18p; Davion Dice 1p; Eli Thurman 3p; Trey Jones 6p; Beau Buchanan 1p.
MVP – Terry Taylor (Bowling Green).
All-tournament team – Zion Harmon, DeAngelo Wilson (Bowling Green); Sean McNeil, Adam Kunkel, Dante Hendrix (Cooper); Chance Moore, Ahmad Price (Fern Creek); Chad Ohmer, Jake Ohmer (Scott); Clivonte Patterson (Ballard); Dominique Turner (Collins); Damon Tobler (Perry County Central); Cooper Robb (Scott County).
Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches Larry Conley Ultimate Teammate Award – Jake Ohmer (Scott).
Ted Sanford Award, sponsored by The Courier- Journal – Caleb Covington (Scott County).