Patriots heading back to the Final Four with 54-40 win over Success Unlimited

Published 6:53 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots overcame an early double-digit deficit to knock off Success Unlimited Academy 54-40 in the AISA Elite 8 on Wednesday afternoon.

The win sends the Patriots to their second-straight Final Four appearance.

“We struggled early in the season,” head coach Allen Ponder said. “The comments I heard were ‘Don’t worry about it it’s a rebuilding year.’ Our kids didn’t believe that. We are good basketball team and we play hard. Very proud of my kids and their resiliency today against a very good basketball team. My kids fought and they battled. I’m very proud of these kids.”

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The Mustangs raced out to an early 12-2 lead in the later stages of the first quarter. From that point on, the Patriots outscored the Mustangs 52-28.

“We are a basketball team that lives and dies by the 3-point shot,” Ponder said. “Honestly, we were just not shooting the ball well. I don’t think it was jitters because the kids that were missing the shots were here last year. The veterans we had back didn’t worry about it. It didn’t bother them because they knew eventually the shots were going to fall. We started to penetrate the lane and get to the rim and that ended up being the key to the game.”

After closing their deficit to six, the Patriots went into the second quarter trailing 12-6.

The Patriots scored the first seven points of the second quarter to take their first lead of the game at 13-12.

The Patriots had three different scorers make baskets in the quarter. Nick O’Brien scored five, Drew Nelson scored four points and Javon Christian had two. The Patriots went into the locker room at halftime leading 17-14.

The Patriots lead grew to as many as 10 points in the third quarter. O’Brien knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the quarter including one on a fade away jumper with less than a second remaining in the quarter. He was fouled on the shot and went to the free throw line and finished off the four-point play. The Patriots went into the final quarter leading 39-29.

The Patriots pushed their lead to 19 points in the fourth quarter before Ponder emptied the bench in the game’s final minutes.

The Patriots will take on Bessemer in the Final Four on Friday afternoon beginning at 2:30. The Patriots fell to Bessemer in the Final Four last season.

“I hope we don’t remember anything from last year’s game,” Ponder said. “I remember seeing five kids from Bessemer that were monsters. They were great athletes and great basketball players. What I do want our kids to remember is what it felt like to lose that basketball game and refuse to let that happen again.”X