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Conner Cougars close fast just in time with four-senior-guard lineup at hot-shooting Simon Kenton

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

It would have been easy for Conner’s visiting Cougars, down by as many as 13 points late in the third quarter to a hot-shooting Simon Kenton team, to just pack it in.

Conner game-saver Dalton Kramer

After all, they were still sore and tired from a double overtime win Monday against a talented Newport team.

Two tough games in 24 hours, down 52-39, to a Pioneer team with Travis Krohman firing in 27 points from all over and 7-foot-3 Gabe Dynes – 10 inches taller than any Conner player in the Cougars’ four-guard lineup — blocking five shots to go with his 12 points, maybe it was time to move on.

How tired were they? “I didn’t play last night,” Conner Coach Matt Otte said, not going there. His players, led by Landen Hamilton, said they weren’t going to use the back-to-back games as an excuse for a slow start.

Instead, the Cougars just decided to come back. They fought. They scrapped. They fouled, committing seven of the first eight in the second half, eight of the first 10 and nine of the first 12, as they fell farther behind.

And then the threes that Simon Kenton was hitting in the first half – seven in all – started dropping for the Cougars. Hamilton, who finished with 30 points and five three-pointers, and Dalton Kramer, who scored 19 points with four threes, led a 27-14 Cougar run to tie it at 66 on a Hamilton three from the corner.

“I was wide open,” Hamilton said of the Conner ball movement that had the Pioneers go to Ayden Lohr and leave him.

Conner Coach Matt Otte sets up his final-second game-winning defense

Not a surprise, Otte said, of the game-winning three. “When any of our kids catch it in rhythm,” well, Otte expects it to go down. For the first time since late in the third quarter, with just 16.1 seconds to go, Conner had the lead, 72-71.

Simon Kenton would have a final shot on an out-of-bounds play with 6.4 seconds left. “We got what we wanted,” Pioneer Coach Trent Steiner said of a game where “we had the opportunities to win” and the ball was in Krohman’s hands with the game on the line.

“We knew he was going to get it,” said Kramer, who was defending one-on-one against Krohman. “He’s a great player.”

But here’s Hamilton’s take. “I knew we could stop him,” he said. Kramer wasn’t so sure, he just knew he couldn’t foul, leading by one, but could he give Krohman a 15-foot jumper?

He couldn’t, or at least as it turned out, he wouldn’t, waiting to pounce for just the split-second when Krohman brought the ball down to load his shot.

“Oh my God,” Kramer said, of his perfect timing, “I couldn’t believe it, the ball was in my hands.”

And so was the game as the Cougars improved to 15-6 while Simon Kenton fell to 14-7. With wins over three of the Ninth Region’s top four teams – Covington Catholic, Holy Cross and Newport – in the last three weeks, Conner has marked itself a team to be reckoned with.

Simon Kenton is headed in that same direction as No. 3 in the Eighth Region with wins over North Oldham, Grant County and Walton-Verona, the other teams in the region’s top four.

Simon Kenton Coach Trent Steiner

Conner is doing it with those four senior guard starters, a point noted by the Simon Kenton PA man during pregame introductions. “At guard for Conner . . . ,” he announced, “at the other guard . . . , and at the other guard . . . and at the other guard.”

All four scored in double figures, and only those four scored for Conner, with Lohr adding 12 and Daniel Campbell 11. As 6-5 junior Ben Fay said of his job, it was solely “to keep him (Dynes) away from the basket,” something he and Grant Reece did pretty well.

“We don’t have guys who are super quick and can break people down one-on-one,” Otte said, so they have to all get it right as a group.

But they also have a competitor who can score, like Hamilton. “He erases any of the mistakes his coach makes,” Otte said.

And Kramer, who when it counted most, played the part of the actual eraser.

CONNER 18 16 16 22—72
SIMON KENTON 19 21 16 15—71
CONNER (15-6): Campbell 11, Hamilton 30, Kramer 19, Lohr 12, Fay 0, Reece 0: TOTAL 72 (10 three-pointers, Hamilton five, Kramer four).
SIMON KENTON (14-7): Bilton 10, Brown 2, Crisp 3, Dynes 12, Gabbard 14, Krohman 27, Polly 3, TOTAL: 71 (with nine three-pointers, Krohman five).

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