Boys state basketball: Kentwood wins state title

He made a vow to his teammates.

Then Kentwood High star Joshua Smith backed up his words Saturday night at the Tacoma Dome.

Smith, Kentwood’s 6-foot-9 UCLA-bound star, scored a game-high 22 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out five assists, leading the Conquerors past Jackson 67-58 for the Class 4A state boys basketball title.

“I told them (before the game), ‘I am going to put us on my back and we’re going to go off on a good note,’” said Smith, who was named the tournament MVP after averaging 23.3 points and 15 rebounds per game. “This feels great.”

The win wrapped up four days of perfection at the Tacoma Dome for the Conquerors (21-10). Kentwood opened the tournament on Wednesday with a 57-44 win over Mead, followed with a 78-57 throttling of Eastlake on Thursday and advanced to Saturday’s title game with a 57-44 victory over Wilson on Friday.

While Smith provided the lion’s share of offense, virtually every player on the Kentwood roster got involved at some point of the tournament, especially in Saturday’s win.

After a back-and-forth first quarter, Kentwood’s Alec Wilson gave the Conquerors a 17-14 lead after draining a 3-pointer to open the second. Jackson (23-8) would tie the game moments later, 17-17, but did not get back into the lead the rest of the night.

Though Smith was huge throughout the tournament, Kentwood’s bench played a key role in the pivotal second quarter against Jackson. Skyler Genger, who had been used sparingly all season, came off the bench in the second period and drained a pair of big 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Wilson scored 8 of his 14 points in the quarter, helping the Conquerors take a 37-29 lead into halftime.

In all, Kentwood’s bench outscored Jackson’s reserves 17-2, led by Genger’s nine. Taylor Jones also came off the bench to chip in six points.

“That’s how it is on this team, everybody steps up,” said point guard Mikell Everette.

But Smith’s presence in the paint proved to be the biggest difference of all.

Kentwood collected 14 second-half points in the game while Jackson didn’t manage any.

“They have Josh Smith. There’s nothing more you can really say,” said Jackson star Brett Kingma. “Obviously he changes the game so much. We did our best to stop him, but came up short.”

Defense was key for the Conquerors, too. Kingma, who came into the night averaging 24.5 points per game, was shut down by a relentless rotation of Kentwood guards, led by Tre Tyler. Kingma managed just two points – and three air balls – in the first half.

And while Kingma was drawing plenty of air in the first half, the Conquerors could not miss. Kentwood hit 16 of 30 shots in the first 16 minutes, including the four 3-pointers – two apiece from Wilson and Genger.

“We had to double on Smith and count on guys who aren’t as likely to score to not score,” said Jackson coach Steve Johnson. “They made shots, they made 3-pointers. What else are you going to do? We gave them open 3-pointers and they made too many of them.”

Having worked the outside game, Kentwood turned to Smith to take over the paint in the third quarter. Smith opened the quarter with a putback bucket, pushing Kentwood’s lead to 39-29. Smith then showed off his passing skills, delivering an assist to Everette who converted a reverse off glass to give the Conks a 41-29 lead.

Moments later, the Kentwood season was put in a nutshell when Smith delivered from the top of the paint to Everette just inside the paint. Without hesitation and in a single motion, Everette tipped the ball to a cutting Boyce, who converted an easy lay-in off glass, giving the Conks a 43-30 lead, but more importantly showing the unselfishness that has typified Kentwood’s play during the last month.

Much of that style of play began when Smith went down with a knee injury in December.

“Losing Josh, that helped us get our confidence,” Everette said. “After that, we knew that whenever we had to go without him that we’d be fine.”

Even though the Conks knew they’d be fine, having Smith on the court proved vital on Saturday.

“We know we count on Josh, but everybody was stepping up. Alec Wilson hit some big threes today. We just all played together well,” Tyler said. “We weren’t relying on Josh too much. We know he’s a big part of our success, but when he kicks it out, we’re ready to make plays.”

And make plays, the Conquerors did throughout the tournament.

In fact, Kentwood ended state with a tournament-high 58 assists. Gonzaga Prep was the next closest at 40.

“Like I keep saying, it’s five of us,” said Smith, who tied for the tournament lead by averaging 4.3 assists per game.

The state title is Kentwood’s first since 2004.

It all came together, strangely enough, through the team’s biggest star going down.

“We came together as a team then,” said Kentwood coach Michael Angelidis. “We knew that for the first time in three years that Josh wasn’t going to be there. We knew he wasn’t going to be there for a while and we knew we had to make sure that we kept our season alive and that we kept getting better.”

And get better they did.

“We went 14-2 in our last 16 games and had an average winning margin of 17 points,” Angelidis noted. “I can’t say enough about these kids.”

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