Boys basketball exceeds expectations

Ben Clyatt, Sports Editor

At the start of January, the boys basketball team was 7-6, and if anyone had told head coach Josh Kohn that the team would eventually become district champions and host a regional playoff game, Kohn might have found it hard to believe.

However, the team currently has a 22-8 record, with a 51-50 district championship win over Lake Brantley, a 83-73 home playoff win against Sandalwood last Thursday night, and another 67-54 home win over Lake Brantley on Tuesday.. Their unexpected success has been due in large part to the team-first mindset implemented among the boys.

“It’s not a one-on-one situation; it’s all 11 of us just playing together,” point guard Grant Greene said. “We look out for each other, we find each other, we sacrifice for each other.”

Finishing the second half of the season with a 13-2 record, the team went into the regional playoff game against Sandalwood on Feb. 12 riding a seven game winning streak. Sandalwood, who came into the game with a 17-8 record, jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter, and the boys team spent most of the first half trying to keep up. Sandalwood guard Zach Turner scored 20 points in the first half, and the barrage of five threes gave the home team problems. Sandalwood went into halftime up, 43-37.

“We were kind of frustrated at halftime, but we knew if we just came out and kept playing defense and kept knocking down threes, we would come back and be in the game,” center Robin Loh said. “We just knew we had to keep playing, and it would fall for us eventually.”

Kohn reminded the players in the locker room that they either had practice the next day or they did not; this was either the end of the season or they would live to play another day. The team responded, and they outscored Sandalwood 26-17 in the third quarter, and went into the fourth quarter up 63-60.

The game stayed close for much of the fourth quarter, with Sandalwood fighting to keep the boys team from pulling away, but with a couple of minutes left in the game, Sandalwood started to visibly fall apart. Down only two with three and a half minutes to go, Sandalwood found themselves down 11 two minutes later. Mahoney finished the game with 37 points, one point off his career high. Guard Alex Keel also scored 26.

“[The scoring] just came. I had to knock down shots to help my team win,” Mahoney said. “I was just making some big shots for us, and just getting to the basket and scoring.”

The team outscored Sandalwood 46-30 in the second half, executing both on offense and defense. Sandalwood’s guard, Turner, who had 20 points at halftime, was held to just four points in the second half.

The team played Lake Brantley on Feb. 17, and won that game as well, 67-54. Mahoney finished with 22 points in the win and Keel had 13. Their next game is Saturday, Feb. 21, on the road against Boone at 7p.m.

The postseason run has left the early struggles in the distance, but the beginning of the season served as a trial period for Kohn and the team. With so many new faces, including three sophomores and one freshman, there was not a lot of certainty as to what group the team would run with. Kohn experimented with different lineups and adjusted the players’ playing times frequently at the beginning of the year, attempting to find a winning formula.

However, one constant was Mahoney, who transferred from Orlando Christian Preparatory after his freshman year. He has been the team’s leading scorer, averaging 23 points a game. He was named the District Nine Player of the Year by the Florida Atlantic Coaches Association. Though Mahoney was still a top option, by the New Year, Kohn, who was named Coach of the Year, had decided to give his seniors full run of the team.

“When the seniors lead you, and they lead and they practice hard and they’re confident in games, it just makes it easier to play,” Kohn said.

In previous seasons, the team had seniors who took over games and scored whenever needed. Though this year was not the same, the seniors stepped up off the court, leading in practices and implementing a positive locker room atmosphere.

“When they are enthusiastic, and still encouraging the younger players when we’re behind at the end of the first quarter, or we’re behind at halftime, or it’s a close game, there’s no negativity, it’s ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, keep your heads up,’” Kohn said. “When they’re good, and they’re positive, and they’re encouraging, how can that be a bad thing?”