By Jane Hammond
The Macon Telegraph
Santez Kinder was practically speechless after his game Tuesday night.
Kinder’s 30-point performance paced Northeast-Macon as the Raiders beat Early County, 68-59, in round two of the GHSA Class AA playoffs. The win gives Northeast its first quarterfinal appearance since 1994, and its third in 26 years.
“This state tournament, I don’t care if we win by half a point, as long as that half a point is ours,” Northeast head coach Kevin Grooms said. “That’s what it’s all about. We knew they were gonna come in and play us hard, and we were just ready. … If (Kinder) is rolling, we’re all rolling.”
The Raiders will try to continue to roll with Kinder as they travel to Vidalia Thursday night, who beat Westside Augusta 74-36 to advance to the Elite 8.
Northeast got off to a 12-0 run, leaving the Bobcats scoreless until more than halfway through the first quarter. Northeast called for a timeout after some offensive miscues, but it didn’t slow Early County as they cut the lead to three.
The Bobcats got their only lead of the night when a 3-pointer from Dentavious Thornton put them on top 16-14. The teams traded leads throughout the second quarter and ended the first half tied at 28.
“In the beginning of the game, we started out fairly well, then we just took a break and we relaxed,” Grooms said. “If we could eliminate our fouls and keep our key guys in the game, we’ll be alright.”
Northeast responded with a 25-point third quarter, including 13 from Kinder, but a deep 3-pointer and made free throw from Early County’s freshman Qubilah Hall cut the lead to four with 1:03 on the clock.
The Raiders took over at that point and finished the game on a 20-15 run. Wylcolvian Early added 15 points, and Hall lead the Bobcats with 16.
“They made a good run, we had made a run to get back in it, but we just didn’t do what we needed to do,” Early County head coach Randy Isom said. “I got a young team, and I guess the experience of not really just being there (before), it caught up with us. … We needed to make a run at the end, and we just didn’t make it to make it closer than it was.”
Northeast went 14-of-18 from the line, a marked improvement over Saturday’s 13-of-30 struggles and Early County’s 8-of-21 free-throw performance.