Kentwood freshman Brandon Tagle plays defense against Auburn. Photos by Ben Ray/The Reporter

Kentwood freshman Brandon Tagle plays defense against Auburn. Photos by Ben Ray/The Reporter

Basketball: Kentwood drops close game to defending state champs

On Jan. 13, the Kentwood Conquerors fell to the Auburn Trojans, 65-61, ending the Conks’ three-game win streak. The loss dropped them into a tie for fourth in the NPSL in a highly competitive 4A division.

But Kentwood Head Coach Blake Solomon found the positives in the game.

“I loved how we played tonight … For as young as we are, as tough as our schedule has been and as good as they are, I am very pleased with our effort,” said Solomon.

Kentwood got off to a slower start than normal, scoring five points in the first six minutes. At the end of the first quarter through good play from sophomore Mason St. Louis, they got the game to within two points to start the second quarter behind 13-11.

The game began and continued to be an extremely physical game, a battle that would test the Conks’ strength.

“Experience is the best teacher and that is something we lack. That is the one thing we lack is experience,” Solomon said.

The second quarter would stay tightly contested. Kentwood limited the Auburn sharpshooters to just a single three-pointer in the first half. The Conquerors ended the first half up by one, 26-25. St. Louis finished the half with 12 points and three rebounds, leading Kentwood in both categories.

Entering the fourth quarter, the game was tied. The message from coach Solomon to his players was simple: finish the game. With five minutes remaining, Kentwood trailed by four, 55-51, a lead that Auburn wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.

The closest Kentwood got to the Trojans was on a beautiful three-point attempt from Blake Stempniak put the game at the closest margin in the fourth, 63-61. It was the final points the Conquerors scored in the contest. Mason St. Louis led the Conks with 25 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Sophomore Corey Tita was the only other Kentwood player in double figures with 10 points.

One of the more interesting points about this Kentwood team is the youth, but last Friday, the seniors stepped up when the team needed them: “Both of them (Skyy Wen and Bilal Abdi) were terrific tonight and helped us a lot,” Solomon said.

The Conquerors currently sit tied at fourth seed in the NPSL. The tie with Auburn goes away at the end of the season because the Trojans are in the 3A division.

“This was our first of that (playoff atmosphere). Even through losing, we have a lot to build on,” Solomon added.

The top three teams in the league are all 4A schools (Kentridge, Tahoma, Federal Way) so if Kentwood wants to advance, they have to continue to play good basketball down the stretch. And they play all three of the teams coming up starting with Tahoma on Jan 20.

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