Defending Class 3A champion University High got its first test of the young season Friday night, and the experienced Cubs came up with a passing grade.
Skylar Mays drove the lane for a basket with two seconds left, allowing the Cubs to edge Class 5A McKinley 61-59 in semifinal action at Central High’s Kinsley Memorial Tournament.
“We haven’t been in a lot of close games this year, but through the years these kids have,” U-High coach Joe Spencer said after the Cubs improved to 7-0. “They weren’t worried about winning or losing. They just kept playing.”
The win advances U-High into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. final where it will play Belaire, a 49-20 winner over Redemptorist in Friday’s late semifinal.
Belaire (9-2) took control of its semifinal early and led 31-11 at halftime. The game was called with 5:45 left to play after Belaire’s Kevin King went down with a broken ankle.
Robert Lewis scored 11 for Belaire while Redemptorist’s Marquis Webb had five.
For U-High, D.J. White hit three 3-pointers, and led the Cubs with 15 points. Also in double figures were Jalen Johnson (14), Mays (12) and Wayde Sims (11). McKinley’s Kyle Woods nailed five 3-pointers, and scored 16.
Early in the fourth quarter, Mays drove the lane to give U-High a 52-43. The Cubs then went scoreless for the next five minutes while McKinley (3-4) fashioned a 10-0 run to take a 53-52 lead with three minutes left.
Joe Delpit hit two 3-pointers to ignite McKinley. U-High missed four field goals and four free throws during the drought.
“McKinley was finishing on the defensive end, and limiting us to one shot,” Spencer said. “All of that got them back in the game quick. McKinley played well.”
The lead changed hands five times in the final minutes before Keeyon Smart hit a free throw to tie it 59-59 with 48 seconds left. U-High worked the clock down to 15 seconds, and called time.
The Cubs inbounded to Mays, who hit a driving layup in traffic for the game-winning points.
“We wanted to spread it out for Skylar, and see if he could get in the lane or get to the free throw line,” Spencer said. “He hit a tough shot, which he has a tendency to do.”
The teams played on even terms for the first three minutes as Sam Sanders hit a 3-pointer helping McKinley earn a 7-7 tie. U-High put up a 12-2 run to surge ahead.
D.J. White hit two 3-pointers and Jalen Johnson had two baskets during the run. U-High led 19-11 after one quarter.
John Jones opened the second with a 3-pointer, and White scored on a fast break as U-High took control. Jones had seven points in the quarter helping the Cubs build as much as a 15-point lead.
Johnson’s 3-pointer made it 32-17 with 3:10 left in the half before U-High settled for a 34-21 lead at halftime.
“We showed flashes of how good we can be,” McKinley coach Marvin Dotson said. “I think the more games we play, the more confidence we’re gaining, and the more consistent we’ll eventually play.”