MARIETTA -- The Kell boys survived an upset attempt as it edged out River Ridge 58-56 in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state tournament Wednesday.
With the victory, Kell (18-6) advanced to a second-round matchup where it will host Shiloh on Friday or Saturday.
Trailing by four at the beginning of the third quarter, River Ridge outscored Kell 8-3, with Jackson Head contributing five of those points, to cut the deficit to 33-32 with 6:01 remaining in the period.
Kell responded with a 7-0 run -- boosted by Najhae Colon’s 3-pointer -- to give the Longhorns their biggest lead of the game -- 40-32 at the 4:06 mark.
River Ridge eventually whittled the Longhorns' advantage to one and trailed 46-42 at the end of the third quarter.
The Knights took a 51-50 lead with 4:10 remaining in the game. The game was tied at 56-all on a pair of free throws by Trey Hopf with 1:02 left, but Scoot Henderson’s jumper with 24 seconds to go provided the margin of victory for the Longhorns.
“River Ridge did a great job,” Kell coach Jermaine Sellers said. “I think they came ready to play. They especially did a good job moving the ball and getting open shots. We were scrambling a little bit defensively. We never really found our rhythm offensively. We had spurts where we got shots and got good looks, and we had spurts where it just wasn’t flowing as well as it should be.”
Jaylen Harris scored 22 points and Henderson added 18 to lead the way for Kell.
Jared Russo led River Ridge (15-14) with 16 points, while Head contributed 11 for the Knights, the fourth seed from Region 7AAAAAA.
The first quarter set the tone as the two teams traded the lead, with River Ridge holding a 15-14 advantage at the end of the period. Henderson and Harris combined for 12 of the Longhorns’ 14 points.
It was more of the same in the second. The Knights led 25-23 with 1:36 remaining in the first half, but the Longhorns proceeded to score the last six points of the period on free throws by Henderson, a jumper by Dylan Cambridge and a layup from Aaron Smith to make it 29-25 at halftime.
“Our guys played their hearts out,” River Ridge assistant coach Brandon Smith said. “I could not be more proud of just the way they competed. Kell is one of the top, if not the best team in the state, and we hung with them. We had every chance to pull off the Cinderella, shock upset. I’m just proud of the way we fought and how we competed. We were not perfect, but we competed as hard as we could. As a coach, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”