DECISIVE RUN: Cephus ignites for 13 in third as Academy beats rival Rogers 53-32, goes 12-0 in 19-3A
Updated: Feb 14, 2021
GAME-CHANGING PERFORMANCE: Academy senior shooting guard Jerry Cephus made three 3-point baskets and scored all 13 of his points in the third quarter to help the 17th-ranked Bumblebees turn a 17-17 halftime tie into a 39-28 lead on their way to a 53-32 win over rival Rogers in Friday night's District 19-3A finale at the Eagles' Harley Doggett Gymnasium. Senior guard Jaylin McWilliams scored a game-best 14 points as Academy (17-7) finished 12-0 in district, extending its streak of consecutive league victories to 29 dating to the 2018-19 season. Junior guard Jaxon Craig scored 10 points to lead Rogers (14-11, 9-3), which tied Cameron Yoe for second in 19-3A. The bi-district playoffs are next week. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
ROGERS – Academy senior shooting guard Jerry Cephus didn't necessarily have a big overall game against rival Rogers in Friday night's District 19-3A boys basketball finale.
He did, however, produce one huge quarter, and that was sufficient to spark the 17th-ranked Bumblebees to their second consecutive undefeated district championship.
Academy and Rogers entered the second half tied 17-17 after both teams' offenses were as cold as the frigid weather outside Harley Doggett Gymnasium, but the suddenly sizzling Cephus made three 3-point shots and scored all 13 of his points during a game-turning explosion in the third quarter to help the Bees pull away for a 53-32 victory over the Eagles.
“If you miss it, just keep shooting. They're eventually going to fall. Shooters are going to shoot,” Cephus said. “A lot of people miss shots, but if you keep shooting, they're going to eventually start to fall. I caught it and I started feeling it, so I kept shooting and they kept falling.”
Academy fifth-year head coach James Holt said that after his squad struggled to get into a groove against Rogers in the first half, it was the combination of energetic play by his reserve players and the torrid shooting stretch of Cephus that fueled the Bees' 22-point third period and created separation.
“I think Rogers played pretty good defense overall, so they make it tough. We had a lineup there with Jerry and some guys off the bench and they had a lot of energy," Holt said. "They were flying all over the floor defensively, so we got some steals and we got some easy buckets. Sometimes an easy layup leads to confidence shooting 3s, and Jerry got hot.”
Rogers second-year head coach Austen Stolte praised his team's first-half defensive performance but credited Cephus and Academy's offense for finally breaking free during the pivotal third period.
“They started applying some pressure, and the fast break is a little bit different with trying to talk to each other about who we've got. I think we lost him a couple times,” Stolte said of Cephus. “But the times it was halfcourt, I think it was just some good shots. Sometimes we had a hand (up); sometimes he was open. I tell my guys, 'You get a good hand on them, sometimes they're going to knock it down. It's good defense and just a better shot.' That's all a part of the game.”
Senior Jaylin McWilliams scored a game-high 14 points to complement Cephus' 13, senior power forward Tanner Rambeau had 10 points and junior guard Chris Preddie provided eight points along with athletic rebounding and defense as Academy (17-7) finished 12-0 in 19-3A to win the league championship by three games over second-place squads Rogers (14-11, 9-3) and Cameron Yoe (17-5, 9-3).
Academy will play Groesbeck or Teague in a Class 3A bi-district playoff game at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Riesel High School.
Rogers and Yoe, who split their two meetings and swept every district team other than Academy, had a coin flip to determine 19-3A's second and third seeds. The Eagles won the flip and will play 20-3A third-place finisher Crockett at 6 p.m. Friday at Bryan High School. The Yoemen have the No. 3 seed and will play 20-3A runner-up Fairfield at 1 p.m. Saturday at Madisonville High School.
RIVALRY BATTLE: Academy junior guard Chris Preddie takes a 3-point shot over Rogers junior defender Riley Dolgener during the 17th-ranked Bumblebees' 53-32 win against the Eagles on Friday night at Harley Doggett Gymnasium in Rogers. Preddie made two of Academy's five 3-pointers as coach James Holt's Bees completed a 12-0 record against District 19-3A competition. Dolgener scored seven points for coach Austen Stolte's Eagles, who tied Cameron Yoe for second place in the league at 9-3. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
The Bumblebees, outright winners of last three 19-3A championships, outscored the Eagles 36-15 in the second half as they posted their 29th straight district victory dating to the 2018-19 season. Academy improved to 39-1 against district opponents in the last three seasons.
Junior shooting guard Jaxon Craig made three of Rogers' four 3-pointers and scored a team-high 10 points for the Eagles, who got eight points (all in the second half) from senior forward Ben Hutka and seven (all before halftime) from junior forward Riley Dolgener.
Academy played without one of 19-3A's best players in junior point guard Darion Franklin. Holt said Franklin missed the regular-season finale because of disciplinary reasons but will be back for the Bees' bi-district playoff game next week.
Franklin's absence caused the 6-foot-2 McWilliams – the reigning 19-3A Most Valuable Player – to move from wing to point guard, which might help explain some of Academy's offensive difficulties in the first half as the Bees made only one 3-point shot and didn't attempt a free throw.
“It does change it, because he's so ball-dominant in our offense. He controls bringing the ball up the floor and he gets us into our offense,” Holt said of Franklin, a two-year starter. “And when he's not there, we have guys kind of out of their best positions. Like Jaylin can play the point guard, but he's best on the wing. With (Darion) out, it just changes kind of how we're used to playing.
“But it's like that when Jaylin's out or if Tanner's out. We've had guys out. The good thing is we've got good depth. We've got guys on the bench who would be starters probably on most teams in our district. We've got great depth, and when you have that you can overcome maybe one person not being there, but also you can overcome maybe one person not having a great game because other guys can score.”
Added Cephus: “We usually play fast and I feel like we kept playing fast. It's really 'next man up' with us. If someone's down, it's got to be the next man up. (Franklin) was down, so Jaylin stepped up and played (point) guard and he got the job done. It wasn't as pretty as we wanted it to be, but it was good.”
The first half's tone was set when neither team scored during the opening 3:10 before Rambeau scored inside off a pass from fellow senior Kollin Mraz. McWilliams scored two close-range baskets before Craig made a 3-pointer from the top. Preddie's 3 from the left corner was answered by Dolgener's floater, then McWilliams made a follow-up hoop before Rogers senior center Ty Sebek sank a 17-foot jumper to trim the Eagles' deficit to 11-9 after one quarter.
In a tight, offensively challenged second period, Academy grabbed a 13-11 lead on junior Trae Rambeau's driving basket, but 3-pointers by Dolgener and Craig staked Rogers to a 17-15 advantage. After McWilliams got the roll for a game-tying hoop in the lane, neither team scored in a choppy final 2:40, leaving the game in a 17-17 deadlock at halftime.
“The first half defensively, that's probably one of the best halves I've seen us play this season,” said Stolte, a former player at Mary Hardin-Baylor. “I mean, we preach helping each other on defense and playing as a group of five. Whenever we'd step in and they'd kick it out, we had great closeouts. It just came down to executing basics.”
Said Cephus: “We were killing ourselves with (missed) layups. We could not buy a bucket at all to start. They were playing a lot of pack-line defense and taking away the basket and forcing us to have to shoot (from farther out). Their defense was pretty solid tonight.”
Academy didn't immediately take control after the intermission. Hutka, scoreless in the first half, made a 15-footer and an inside basket to counter Tanner Rambeau's point-blank hoop and Cephus' cutting bucket off an inbound pass. The Bees reclaimed the lead for good when Cephus dished to Tanner Rambeau inside for a 23-21 advantage 1:34 into the third.
McWilliams then barreled through traffic for a difficult basket and a 25-21 lead, leading to a Rogers timeout at the 5:20 mark. It was 28-21 after Preddie made an open 3 from up top, but the Eagles responded with Hutka's 16-footer, junior Kade Sebek's basket while carving across the lane and Craig's left-corner 3 to forge a 28-28 tie before Academy called a timeout with 3:15 remaining.
The rest of the third, though, was the Cephus show. The 5-10 guard made a 3-pointer from the right corner for a 31-28 Bees lead at the 3:06 mark, then scored a left-handed layup off a steal as Academy picked up the pace and began to turn defense into offense. Forty seconds later Cephus made a long 3 from the right side, then he buried an NBA-range 3 from up top to cap his flurry of 13 points in 2 minutes, 8 seconds. Less than 2½ minutes after being tied at 28, the Bees owned a 39-28 lead that they carried into the fourth quarter.
“He'll shoot it deep. When he's got it rolling they look really good, and he got it rolling in the third quarter there,” Holt said of Cephus, a third-year varsity standout who quarterbacked Academy's football team to a playoff berth last fall. “You've got to ride the hot hand sometimes.”
Rogers wasn't yet out of contention with 8 minutes remaining, but Trae Rambeau passed to sophomore Cole Shackelford for a basket and then scored a left-handed putback to make it 43-28. Hutka scored inside with 5:12 left for a 43-31 game, but Rogers didn't make a field goal the rest of the way and committed seven turnovers in the final period as the Bees outscored the Eagles 14-4 in the fourth.
Cephus said Academy takes a lot of pride in its three consecutive outright district championships and is determined to extend its season as long as possible after Crockett eliminated the Bees in the 3A Region III quarterfinals each of the last two seasons.
“It's crazy. This team has a crazy close bond. We just play for each other every night. We just want to keep it running,” Cephus said. “I play every game like it's my last, so I'm going to take it the same and I think everyone else is going to do the same. Hopefully we can go on a big run here in the playoffs.”
Holt said he hopes that Academy runs into Crockett once again “because that would be the regional final. If we play them, I'll be happy," he said.
The Bees could get a third-round showdown with No. 20 Franklin, which won the 20-3A crown with a 14-0 record. Franklin dealt Academy its last district loss, on Feb. 1, 2019.
Holt believes that this battle-tested Bees squad, featuring a “core nucleus” of seniors Cephus, McWilliams, Mraz and Tanner Rambeau plus Tyler Lambert – is well-equipped to produce another extended playoff run.
“I think it's going to be a thing where nothing's going to surprise them, because they've been in those games,” Holt said. “I knew when I got the job (in 2016) and saw these guys play in eighth grade that that group was going to be a successful group. They've played a lot of basketball, they play good basketball, they have good talent and they play together as a team. I knew we could be really good, but you've still got to do it.
“We've had good seniors on some teams and they graduated, guys that kind of laid the foundation of being good leaders. It's just a great group of kids who play for each other, and they have success because they play the right way and they really care about each other."
DISTRICT 19-3A BOYS BASKETBALL
No. 17 Academy 53, Rogers 32
Academy 11 6 22 14 – 53
Rogers 9 8 11 4 – 32
Academy (17-7, 12-0) – Jaylin McWilliams 14, Jerry Cephus 13, Tanner Rambeau 10, Chris Preddie 8, Trae Rambeau 4, Scout Brazeal 2, Cole Shackelford 2.
Rogers (14-11, 9-3) – Jaxon Craig 10, Ben Hutka 8, Riley Dolgener 7, Ty Sebek 4, Kade Sebek 3.
3-point field goals – Academy 5 (Cephus 3, Preddie 2); Rogers 4 (Craig 3, Dolgener 1).
Free throws – Academy 0-4; Rogers 2-9.
Notes – Academy completes its second consecutive undefeated district season and improves to 39-1 in district play in the last three seasons; Academy will play Groesbeck or Teague in a Class 3A bi-district playoff game; Rogers ties Cameron Yoe for second place in 19-3A. Rogers wins coin flip and will play Crockett in bi-district; Yoe gets district's No. 3 seed and will play Fairfield in bi-district.
Junior varsity A – Rogers 48, Academy 44.
Junior varsity B – Academy 44, Rogers 20.