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Slow start, fast finish has Newport moving on to Tuesday’s championship after ‘chippy’ win over Lloyd

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

Newport’s Wildcats may have had worse starts this season than they suffered through in the first quarter of Sunday’s Ninth Regional semifinal game against Lloyd Memorial’s Juggernauts, but it’s hard to recall them.

Newport freshman James Turner makes a strong move against Lloyd’s Joe Cooley (Photo by Dale Dawn)

But the young Wildcats have hardly ever finished stronger, improving to 27-6, beating Lloyd 49-42 with a late charge, and advancing to Tuesday’s 7 p.m. Ninth Region championship game against a Cooper team that knocked off Covington Catholic, 57-54, in the second semifinal game.

That slow start was partly because the Juggs made life so difficult for the Newport offense and its shooters, almost as difficult as the Wildcats made it for themselves.

But as this game made so obvious in the early going, the problem for a Ninth Region high school team playing a team like Lloyd, with its two “Division I players,” is this.

Sometimes, Division I players play like Division I college players while they’re still in high school. Which is exactly what 6-foot-3 senior Jeremiah Israel, headed to NKU, and 6-8 sophomore EJ Walker, Coach Mike Walker’s son, were doing. EJ has offers from most of the Big Ten already.

Newport’s Jabari Covington with an acrobatic move against Lloyd defenders. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

It was 11-4 Lloyd after the first quarter. And only thanks to an off-balance buzzer-beater by freshman Taylen Kinney with less than a second left in the first half, were the Wildcats still in it, down 21-18.

But looking more comfortable to be here in front of a crowd that filled most of the lower bowl and much of the second deck in the 9,000-capacity Truist Arena at NKU.

“We started running our offense, reversing the ball,” Newport Coach Rod Snapp said. “We felt like we could win the guard battle.”

Jabari Covington, a 6-2 junior guard, made sure of that. All he did was score a game-high 14 points on six-of-13 shooting, hit both his free throws, grabbed four rebounds, dished out four assists, had a block, and four steals with just one turnover.

Covington wasn’t doing this alone. Kinney, a 6-foot guard, and 6-6 freshman forward James Turner scored 10 points each, with 12 rebounds between them while Kinney recorded three assists.

Newport senior Marquez Miller also scored 10 points with eight rebounds. As a group, Covington, Miller and Turner knocked down 10 of 12 free throws and eight of eight in the final 2:00.

“In that second half, we went out and locked in,” Covington said, “I hit a few mid-range jumpers . . . “ And then there was a trap in front of the Lloyd bench that resulted in a nose-to-nose confrontation with Jabari and a couple of Juggernaut players.

Newport’s Taylen Kinney gets the squeeze from Lloyd’s Jeremiah Isreal and Anthony Blaackar. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“Just a few cuss words,” Covington said with a grin at the double-technical. “It fueled me for the rest of the game.”

Newport would outscore Lloyd, 21-13, from that point on including a 10-2 streak to start the fourth quarter. That came after Covington had hit on back-to-back-to-back field goals to get a one-point lead, 30-29, in the third period.

Much of that catch-up game was the result of a defense that forced eight second-half Lloyd turnovers – and 13 for a game where every possession was precious. “We were getting in the gaps,” Snapp said. And getting hold of the basketball and going the other way.

“We kinda’ got outside our game plan,” Walker said of the 21 points scored in each half. More like Newport’s defenders got them out of it.

“The moment may have been too big for a couple of them,” Walker said of the program he’s building in Erlanger.

Israel finished with 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Football quarterback Isaiah Sebastian had 10 points and also grabbed nine rebounds. Walker scored eight points with three rebounds.

“They told me this was a terrible job,” Walker, a Dayton, Ohio, native, said. But based on the large crowd of Lloyd fans here, that’s changing. “That’s what it’s about, helping these kids grow, helping the community grow,” Walker said.

Which is why both coaches were apologetic about what happened right after a game that both admitted was “chippy.”

Newport’s DeShawn Anderson tries to put Lloyd’s EJ Walker in the no-fly zone. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

If the game was chippy, the postgame handshake line was chippier. But great job by the two head coaches – and even more, their players and most of the assistants – to keep things in hand after Newport’s heart-pounding win.

As if to prove it, just as Newport’s Snapp was saying of Lloyd’s Walker outside his locker room, that “I love Walker,” he found himself in a bear hug from that same Walker. The same bear hug that minutes earlier had separated Snapp from any trouble in the handshake line after witnesses said he was pushed by an adult from the Lloyd bench.

Walker had made the trip to the Newport locker room to shake hands with all the coaches and players, congratulating them and wishing them well.

“That’s not my coaching, that’s not my program,” said Walker who “didn’t see how it started.” He just wanted to make sure Snapp was OK.

“I’m sorry that happened,” Snapp said. “The kids, they all get along. We haven’t had anything like that all year.

“What a classy move for Coach Walker, he’s got things going in the right direction,” Snapp said of the 19-10 Juggernauts.

LLOYD MEMORIAL 11 10 8-13—42
NEWPORT 4 14 12 19—49
LLOYD MEMORIAL (19-10): Walker 8, Cooley 4, Collins 3, Sabastian 10, Israel 12, Blaackar 5, Riley 0, TOTAL: 42.
NEWPORT (27-6): Turner 10, Miller 10, Kinney 10, Covington 14, Anderson 5, Silverton 0, TOTAL: 49.

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