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Newport guard scores winning basket on unplanned play to defeat Cooper, 44-42, in 9th Region boys final

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

None of the players on either team had ever been in a 9th Region boys basketball championship game before so their coaches had no idea how they would perform under pressure with a trip to the Kentucky state tournament on the line.

That was the intriguing storyline coming into Tuesday’s title game between Newport and Cooper that was played in front of more than 4,000 fans at Northern Kentucky University’s Truist Arena.

Newport guard Taylen Kinney puts up a scoop shot on a drive to the basket against Gavin Lutz of Cooper. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

After grinding it out for 31 minutes and 58 seconds, the score was tied when Newport junior guard Jabari Covington hit a fade away jumper near the lane that gave his team a 44-42 win over Cooper.

“I was a little bit concerned how they were going to adjust to a 9th Region championship game,” Newport coach Rod Snapp said of his players. “I thought they were fantastic. They were up to the challenge and they were gamers.”

The Wildcats won their first region title since 2010 and will take a 28-6 record into next week’s “Sweet 16” state tournament at Rupp Arena. Their first-round opponent will be 2nd Region champion Lyon County (30-5) at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 16.

Newport sold more than 1,000 tickets at school to the 9th Region final and will likely have a good crowd supporting their surprising young team at the state tournament.

“The school loves us,” said Marquez Miller, the only senior in the Wildcats’ starting lineup. “They’d been looking through the windows to watch us practice. And now that we’ve just won this (region), they’re going to love us even more.”

Miller was named the region tournament’s most valuable player. The three-year starter scored 16 points and did a good job on defense. After Cooper sophomore guard Yamil Rondon scored 12 points in the first quarter, he was able to get only four points with Miller guarding him.

Newport senior Marquez Miller

“We switched me on him because I don’t fall for all his fakes and things,” Miller said. “I just got out there and did my job.”

Cooper was still able to keep the score close. After the Jaguars tied it, 42-42, on a pair of free throws by senior Gavin Lutz, Newport called a time out with 12 seconds left on the clock to set up a crucial play.

Snapp said the ball was supposed to go to Miller inside to put up a shot or possibly get fouled, but it didn’t work out that way. Covington dribbled to the right of the lane and launched a shot that bounced off the rim, kissed the backboard and fell through the net.

“We were running a play and it didn’t work so I just had to made something happen and I did,” Covington said of his game-winning basket with 2.5 seconds remaining.

Rondon took an off-balanced desperation shot a few steps across the midcourt line, but the ball didn’t come close to the basket. It hit off the backboard as the final horn sounded.

Newport guard Jabari Covington scores on a layup between Cooper defenders. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

Newport ended up shooting 59.4 percent (19 of 32) from the field with most of its shots coming in the paint. The team’s other double-figure scorers were freshman forward James Turner and freshman guard Taylen Kinney with 10 points each. Covington had eight points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

Cooper (18-13) connected on 15 of 35 shots for 42.9 percent. Rondon had 16 points and four assists. Senior guard Nmandi Ajaezu and sophomore guard Andy Johnson had nine points each.

“They gave me everything,” Cooper coach Tim Sullivan said of his team’s effort. “Everything we asked then to do, they did. Hats off to Newport. They’re a really good team and have a good chance to go downstate and make a run.”

The Wildcats will be one of the surprise teams in the state bracket. Even though they won their last seven regular season games, they were ranked fifth in the 9th Region going into the playoffs.

“Nobody had us coming this far so I’m glad we did it,” Miller said. “We’re going to prove them all wrong. We already did here and we’re going to do it down there (at the state tournament).”

NEWPORT  10  11  13  10 — 44 
COOPER      14   5  13  10 — 42

NEWPORT (28-6): Turner 5 0 10, Miller 7 2 16, Kinney 4 1 10, Covington 3 2 8. Totals: 19 5 44.

COOPER (18-13): Ajaezu 4 0 9, Ollier 1 0 2, Johnson 4 1 9, Rondon 6 2 16, Lutz 0 6 6. Totals: 15 9 42.

3-point goals: N — Kinney. C — Rondon 2, Ajaezu.

Newport — Marquez Miller (MVP), James Turner, Taylon Kinney. Cooper — Nmandi Ajaezu. CovCath — Evan Ipsaro, Ayden Link. Lloyd — EJ Walker, Jeremiah Israel. Highlands — Scott Ryan. St. Henry — Matt Resing. Conner — Daniel Campbell. Beechwood — Cam Boyd.

Newport freshman James Turner had a pair of slam dunks early in the region final and finished with 10 points.


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