The Keenan boys methodically built a 32-21 halftime lead Friday night on fast-paced Lower Richland in their Chick-Fil-A Classic opener at Richland Northeast.
All Keenan coach Zach Norris could do was watch as the Diamond Hornets then took control of the game and walked off the court with a 54-49 victory.
“We blew it, and we’ve got some veterans out there,” Norris said. “It looked like they just froze up. They didn’t know how to run the offense. I’m not going to take anything away from Lower Richland, because they upped their pressure (in the second half), but we’re supposed to handle that.”
Besides slowing down Lower Richland’s attack in the first half, Keenan (2-5) hit its scoring stride, with Tariq Simmons and others passing inside to LeMarcus Johnson. Twelve of Johnson’s 14 points and six of his 10 rebounds on the night came in the first half.
The Raiders tried to protect the lead, but the Diamond Hornets (4-5) eventually overwhelmed Keenan’s ball-control strategy – and 22-for-50 shooting from the field – midway through the second half.
“In the first half, I noticed we could get inside and dominate, and we did that,” Norris said. “In the first part of the second half, we started shooting jumpers. That’s what I don’t understand.”
The Diamond Hornets worked at cutting the lead for 10 minutes of the half, until C.J. Nuttry’s 3-pointer gave Lower Richland its first lead of the second half, a 40-39 advantage.
Rodriguez Marshall put in a basket for Keenan shortly afterward to make it 41-40 Raiders, but Lower Richland had found its groove by then.
The Diamond Hornets got six quick points in transition to take the lead for good. A Nich Harris putback, another Nuttry basket, and Ja’Cor Nelson’s takeaway and layup by the 4:01 mark in the second half put the Raiders away.
“They wanted to slow us down from the get-go,” first-year Lower Richland coach Mark Burnitz said. “We have a lot of depth, so we try to play as fast a tempo as possible. We picked up to our tempo at one point, and that’s when we made our run.
Lower Richland’s Jared Richardson, who averages 21.8 points per game and had a 33-point night against Ridge View on Tuesday, got into foul trouble early in the second half.
“I had to sit him down (briefly in the second half), but I think it was good for us,” Burnitz said. “It showed that we’re not just a one-man team. We’ve got other guys who can play and step up.”
Richardson finished the night with a game-high 20 points. Nuttry had 15.
Simmons had 13 points for the Raiders.