Westover’s Andre’ Kennedy throws down a monster dunk during the Patriots’ victory Thursday against Glenn Hills, sending Westover to the Class AAAA Final Four. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Ever since Westover lost to Eagles Landing in last year’s Elite 8 playoff game, head coach Dallis Smith told his team that if it wanted to put its stamp in school history it would have to go one step farther.
Thursday night the Patriots signed, sealed and delivered one of the school’s biggest wins, triumphing over the Glenn Hills Spartans at home, 68-51, to claim a spot in the Class AAAA Final Four.
From the Patriots being down at halftime and coming back in dramatic fashion to a handful of scream-and-jump-out-of-your-seat plays, the game featured all one can ask for, whether a coach or fan. Most of all, Westover demonstrated what can happen when a group of players come together with a goal in mind and buy into the coaches’ philosophy.
“I’ve been (to the Final Four) before, but for these kids here I’m so proud of them because they have done a great job all year long,” Smith said as one of his players walked by screaming “Love you Coach.”
“They are coming together at the right time and believing what the coaches are saying to them so I am so proud of them.”
The mutual trust between Westover coaches and players was once again put to the test as the Patriots were slightly upstaged in the Boston Garden during the first half of play. Realizing Westover was playing a little loose, the Spartans went right inside scoring six of their first nine points in the paint. When the Patriots went to a zone defense in the second quarter, Glenn Hills found its stroke from behind the arc, burying four treys in the first half to give itself a 34-31 halftime lead.
“We made shots in the first half,” Glenn Hills head coach Travis McRae plainly said.
Equally important to the hot shooting was the Spartans’ ability to frustrate Westover’s C.J. Davis in the first half by denying him the ball down low. Several times the Patriot guards had to look off Davis given the amount of attention he drew.
“Most definitely,” McRae replied when asked about the defensive strategy. “One of our deficiencies is not having someone with size down low (so denying him was important).”
Could Westover have won without a big game from Davis? Possibly, but the team did not want to chance it. Knotted at 34-34 with 4:02 left in the third quarter, Davis busted his way through the Spartan defense, got a defender in the air and went up strong for an and-one basket underneath. The play gave the Patriots their first lead since early on in the second quarter — a lead the team would not surrender.
“I knew either way this was going to be our last home game so I brought it all to the table,” said Davis, who acknowledged his in-game frustration. “It’s a part of basketball, and I just have to adapt to it. Once I adapted to it I realized they could not stop me the whole game and I was able to play how I wanted to play.”
Davis finished with team-highs in points (18) and rebounds (10). Andre Kennedy had another strong game off the bench, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Michael Green chipped in 12 points.
The second-half offensive explosion from Westover all started with defense as the Patriots did not yield a point to Glenn Hills until 3:24 in the third quarter. They ended the quarter with 15 points to just three from the Spartans.
“It’s all about making adjustments at halftime to what they are doing,” Smith explained. “They have a great team with four shooters on the floor that will spread you out. We put a lot of emphasis on their point guard and made someone else beat us.”
That someone else remained nameless as the Spartans went from four first-half three pointers to just one in the second half that came in the final 10 seconds.
“I had to step up and back up my teammates,” said Timothy White, who finished with six points, eight rebounds and three blocks. “Coach teaches us help defense, and I have been playing that since ninth grade. If I keep doing that I help my team win.”
Aubrey McRae did most of Glenn Hills’ scoring with 20 points. Zi Cook had 14 points, and Marice Obannon contributed seven points.
Having accomplished their goal to go one step farther than last year’s team, the Patriots now set their sights on a state championship.
“Cut down on turnovers, play team ball and defense,” Kennedy answered when asked what it will take to bring a state title back to Albany. “(Thursday) we played our hearts out and we knew we had the chemistry and team work to make it to the Final Four and compete for a state championship.”