Keenan’s heretofore stellar defensive record in conference play took a hit on Friday at Columbia, but the Raiders remained on course in Region 3-2A with an 80-70 win against the host Capitals.
Zach Norris’s third-ranked club (16-5, 7-0) has won seven in a row and 10 of 11 and heads into Tuesday’s showdown game with second-place Fairfield Central with the chance to virtually lock down another region championship.
“I don’t think we were looking ahead,” Norris said. “We didn’t have the defensive focus we normally do, but I have to give Columbia credit for that. They are a talented team, and they cause match-up problems. I sure hope we won’t have to face them again because they are a time bomb waiting to go off.”
Keenan entered the game with an average defensive yield of 42.8 points in its six previous conference games. No region foe managed to score more than 49 points against the Raiders.
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Columbia altered the equation with a balanced attack featuring five double-digit contributors. Marcus Praylow led the way with 19 points, followed by Thomas Allen (13), Gerald Snooks (12), Trinity Sells (10) and Isaiah Cooks (10).
On the other hand, the Capitals (8-12, 3-4) had their own defensive issues. The Raiders hit six 3-pointers in the first half on the way to a 45-35 lead, then spread the floor and took it to the basket with impunity in the second half. Keenan hit 32 of 62 shots from the field (52 percent) after converting 14 of 23 (61 percent) after the break.
“We’ve been inconsistent on offense for most of the season, and pretty good on defense,” Capitals coach Mark Kirlough said. “It was a little different tonight, but that’s a pretty good team we were up against tonight. The effort was there, but we had a few too many breakdowns on defense at crucial times.”
Columbia opened the scoring with a tally by Sells, but that was the last lead for the Caps. Keenan broke a 4-4 tie on back-to-back 3-pointers by Eric Hopkins and never trailed again.
The hosts made their final serious move in the third quarter with a 14-8 run behind the 3-point sniping of Allen to slash the deficit to 53-49 by the 4:15 mark. The Raiders responded with a 14-7 surge to carry a 67-56 lead into the final frame. Charles Smith had six points in the run, while Marcus Stroman had one basket and three assists.
Hopkins led the Raiders with 24 points, 15 in the first half. Smith and Stroman backed Hopkins with 21 and 18 points, respectively.
K: Marcus Stroman 18, Gathers 3, Bernard 1, Davis 2, Charles Smith 20, Eric Hopkins 24, Allen 6, Leo. Johnson 4, Lem. Johnson 2. C: McDaniels 3, Isaiah Cooks 10, Thomas Allen 13, Trinity Sells 10, Marcus Praylow 19, Roberts 1, Gerald Snooks 12, Hart 2.