MARIETTA — T.J. Custer’s last-minute heroics put the pressure on Kell, but it wasn’t enough for Forsyth Central to complete a rally.
Despite some spotty free throw shooting, the Longhorns survived two 3-pointers by Custer in the final 39 seconds of the Region 7-AAAAA opener and pulled out a 44-40 victory on Saturday at Sprayberry High School. Central’s season is now complete.
"We didn’t shoot the ball really well, six for 22 on [3-pointers] and seven for 21 [on field goals], but other than that our effort was outstanding," Central head coach Greg Dirst said. "I thought defensively we were pretty good, we really battled on the boards.
"That [Kell] is an athletic team. We’ve got to figure out how to play in this league.
"It seems like every two years we get moved [to a new region] and so you get to see new gyms, new players and new coaches. By the time you get used to them you jump into another league."
Custer (game-high 15 points), Ryder Bowline (11) and Jeremiah Jones (10) were all in double figures for Central (7-18).
Kell (9-17) led 22-14 at halftime and added a free throw in the opening seconds of the third quarter before Central went on a 9-0 run, tying the game 23-23.
Maurice Summerhour ended Central’s streak with a jumper, and the Longhorns clung to a lead the rest of the way. Summerhour scored 11 of his team-high 14 points in the second half.
Summerhour boosted Kell’s edge to 39-30 with 1:32 remaining on a pair of free throws, but the Longhorns missed 7 of 13 foul shots from that point on.
Custer’s final 3-pointer cut the gap to 43-40 with 5.3 seconds remaining but Central was forced to foul one last time, and Jalen Green hit his first free throw attempt to seal Kell’s win.
Grant Bryant (14 points) tied Summerhour for Kell’s team high.
"I’m proud of my guys," Dirst said. "All seven of our senior guys ... were great teammates throughout the whole year."
Riverwood (girls) 53, Forsyth Central 26
Forsyth Central’s girls will miss the state playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Nothing went right for the Lady Bulldogs through most of the Region 7-AAAAA tournament opener, as they fell into a 26-2 hole against Riverwood until the 5:18 mark of the third quarter.
Central (8-17) came into the day having won three of its last five games and put up a fight against Riverwood in their only other meeting of the season, a 50-44 loss on Jan. 18.
But on Saturday the Lady Raiders’ full-court press made it difficult for the Lady Bulldogs to ever get the ball up the floor and set up their offense.
Central’s only two points of the first half came on a transition layup by Kayla Bennett with three seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Forward Emma Kane led the Lady Bulldogs with 11 points, all of which came in the final 11 minutes of play.