LEXINGTON, Ky. – Bellarmine signee Sean McNeil scored 19 points to lead Cooper to a 58-33 victory over Collins in a Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 quarterfinal Friday night at Rupp Arena.
In making their first-ever run to the state tournament, the Jaguars (30-4) have used a staunch defense that entered Friday yielding an average of 36.2 points a contest in the postseason to put away teams. That trend continued for the No. 8 team in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings Friday night.
Cooper held the Titans (24-13) to just 1-of-8 shooting in the first quarter as the Jaguars jumped out to a 17-4 lead after eight minutes. Collins made just four of its first 20 shots, with most of the Titans possessions being one-and-done. They got just two offensive rebounds in the first half.
Jaguars coach Tim Sullivan credited the players for buying into a team concept on defense.
“We pride ourselves on sitting in the stance, not gambling and getting ourselves out of position,” Sullivan said. “I thought tonight was a real, real testament to that fact that our guys, they were locked in.”
But it wasn’t just on defense when Cooper employed the team mentality. The Jaguars got eight assists on their first 12 baskets and ended up assisting on 12 of their 24 baskets for the night.
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McNeil, a 6-3 guard, said the team played more under control, settling down after getting a win in their first-ever state tournament game Thursday night.
“My guys really got me going tonight, got me open looks,” said McNeil, who made 7 of 14 shots, including 2 of 5 3-pointers. “Our offense started clicking early.”
Cooper, who never trailed, grew the lead throughout the second half and led by as much as 27 points in the final minute of play.
Collins coach Chris Gaither remembered playing Cooper two years ago in a holiday tournament at Eastern. The Jaguars won that game 60-54, but Gaither – who took his Titans to the Sweet 16 that season – came away thinking that the only thing Cooper was missing back then in order to be a very successful team was a strong defense.
“They stop shots and stop drives at the same time,” said Gaither, whose team shot just 22.9 percent for the night. “And then they really collapse really hard on the guys. So, when you drive, after that second dribble, they don’t let you get in the lane that well.”
Gaither’s Titans struggled against that defense and failed to keep the passing going. Because of that, Gaither said the Titans looked to set up their own shots first, and that got the Titans out of their rhythm, from which they didn’t recover, the coach said.
The Titans finished with just four assists. Freshman point guard Dayvion McKnight, who had 20 assists in his previous three games, did not get one Friday night.
Adam Kunkel added 16 points for the Jaguars, making 7-of-9 shots.
Dominique Turner led Collins with 10 points.
Cooper will play in the state semifinals Saturday evening and will face Fern Creek.
COOPER 58, COLLINS 34
Dante Hendrix 6p, Adam Kunkel 16p 5r, Brayden Runion 6p 8r, Chris McNeil 6p 5a, Sean McNeil 19p 4r 3a, Tyler Oliver 2p. Blaine Walters 2p 5r, Josh Baker 1p.
Jacob Feltner 4p, Nick Fort 2p, Dayvion McKnight 6p, Charles Cochran 1p 7r, Dominique Turner 10p, B.H. Harper 2p, Tyson Turner 3p, Kyle Perdue 3p, Colby Eades 2p.