By Michael Rich
Grant Kelly got hot in the third quarter with five three-pointers to spark a 19-2 run and Buckeye Valley held on to win 79-76 over host Beechcroft in the second round of the Division II district boys basketball tournament Thursday night in Columbus.
“We told our kids in the two days that we had to prepare for this game, the biggest thing is toughness and guts in this game,” BV coach Andy Gast said. “Obviously, we’re out-sized, but I knew if we could rebound a little bit and hit some threes, we were going to be fine.”
Kelly hit four three-pointers during the run, which turned a five-point deficit into a 12-point lead for the 10th-seeded Barons (18-6). He hit eight threes in the game and finished with a game-high 26 points.
“I’ve been waiting to go off,” Kelly said. “Shooters gotta shoot. If you’re not hitting, you’ve gotta shoot. That’s what my dad always told me.”
“When he gets hot — best shooter I’ve ever seen,” BV guard Nick Hyatt said.
“When he gets hot, he gets in the zone and he can score … he can flat-out shoot it,” Gast said. “We needed every single one of them too. He had a heck of a game.”
BV enters the district semifinal for the first time since 2009 and picked up its second win for the tournament — a feat that hasn’t been achieved since 2008.
“It’s a great win for our program,” Gast said. “We haven’t been to the district semifinals in a long time. I’m happy for the seniors and proud of my kids. They always come out and lay it on the line for me and that’s all I can ask.”
Max Rotondo, Braxton Wells and Jesse Tomlinson all fouled out early in the fourth quarter and the Cougars came on strong with a 16-3 run to bring it to 66-64 with two and a half minutes remaining.
“We had to hang on a bit at the end, but that’s what you got to do in the tournament … everybody’s going to make a run on you,” Gast said. “We (had) to play hard and physical. If we get into foul trouble, we’re going to have to live with that because we need to play physical and tough.”
Jelani Simmons sparked the run with a steal at half court, which he finished with a dunk on the other end. Simmons led the Cougars with 23 points to go with five rebounds.
Teon Jennings scored five straight points during the run, which included a three-point play. Javon Forrester turned his own theft into an easy layup for Simmons to cap the rally.
Beechcroft got it as close as one on a pair of free throws by Teon Jennings to make it 73-72 with 1:02 remaining. Teon Jennings finished with 16 points.
“We can’t win a game easy — we like to keep it close,” Kelly joked.
Hyatt, who scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, drove the lane for a layup and followed with a pair of free throws on the next possession to push the lead back to five for the Barons with 31 seconds left. He finished with a team-high eight boards.
“Nick Hyatt was unbelievable (Thursday night),” Gast said. “He was strong with the basketball, he made very few turnovers (and) made some huge foul shots.”
Teon Jennings fed Therron Jennings underneath on the right side for a layup with eight seconds left and Kelly made one of two at the line on BV’s final possession. Therron Jennings had 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“(Being undersized) has been the case for us all year,” Gast said. “We battled and scrapped and got the big rebounds when we had to. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy coming over here.”
Therron Jennings missed the tying three-pointer from the right wing for the eighth-seeded Cougars (14-9) at the buzzer.
The Barons held a 15-14 lead after one quarter thanks to Kelly’s second three of the game with nine seconds left.
Forrester found Teon Jennings for a basket that he turned into a three-point play to spark a 7-0 Beechcroft rally early in the second quarter.
Simmons hit a three-pointer to push the lead to 27-19 with 3:39 remaining in the half for the Cougars.
Hyatt sparked a 9-0 run with a pair of baskets, including one off his own steal, to give BV a 28-27 lead with 2:01 left in the half.
Josh Dandridge beat the halftime buzzer with a short jumper to give Beechcroft a 35-32 lead at the break.
Mitch Rotondo finished with 10 points and five assists and Tim Schilling added eight points for the Barons.
“Our seniors — Grant Kelly, Mitch, Tim — those guys have a will to win,” Gast said. “Jesse Tomlinson and Mitch Rotondo didn’t score a lot, but their defense was amazing. Those guys were in unbelievable shape.”
BV will play the winner of 14th-seeded Linden McKinley and top-seeded Whitehall-Yearling in the district semifinal round Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined.
Division IV district semifinal: Danville 59, Delaware Christian 25.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.