Senior Julius Graham conducts the Royals offense. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Senior Julius Graham conducts the Royals offense. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Hoops: Kent-Meridian boys win OT thriller over Auburn Riverside

After dropping two games to start the season, the Royals have now won two straight.

The Kent-Meridian boys basketball team outlasted the Auburn Riverside Ravens in overtime 68-67 in a home game on Dec. 11.

Overtime wins just mean a little bit more to an inexperienced squad that Kent-Meridian is rolling with.

“They absolutely mean more, and you build on it... It was a great game. Hats off to Auburn Riverside,” Head Coach Marcus Graham said. “It’s something you want to build on, especially as a young group. It’s about understanding the situation. First league game, it was a statement for us to pull that out by one point. That was huge.”

After an 0-2 start, the Royals have turned it around and won two straight over Lindbergh and now the Ravens. Since joining the NPSL, the Royals have dominated the Ravens and have a four-game winning streak over Auburn Riverside.

“I think it was nerves (for the first two games). We have nine guys who have never played varsity basketball before. It is understanding that it is a long season,” Graham said.

With that much inexperience, Graham has had to change his coaching style to help acclimate players who haven’t competed at this level.

“I’ve never had to sit down and go over X’s and O’s and teach every little thing. This is my first year I have had to break it down to the basics and tell the guys, ‘If you want to be successful you’ve got to do X, Y and Z.’ They’re learning. They’re sponges and want to get better,” he said.

Royals Joel Remos with a finger-roll layup against Auburn Riverside. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Royals Joel Remos with a finger-roll layup against Auburn Riverside. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kent-Meridian jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead, even leading 11-2 midway through the first quarter, but allowed Auburn Riverside to get back in the game — and the two sides were knotted at 15-15 at the conclusion of the first quarter.

“We definitely have to keep our foot on the gas. When we’re up we lack a little, but we just have to keep going,” said senior captain Joel Remos.

The Royals had a lead at the end of the first three quarters, thanks to good play from the bench. Players coming off the bench had nine points in the second quarter while starters had just five.

Defensively, the Royals had a breakdown in the fourth quarter. Kent-Meridian held Auburn Riverside to just 11 points in the second and third quarters. But in the fourth, the Ravens scored 21 points to tie the game.

If it wasn’t for Graham’s nephew Julius Graham, Kent-Meridian may have lost this game with that fourth quarter collapse. Graham sprinted to the basket for four made field goals in the fourth quarter, paired with two free throws, which made him the highest scorer in that fourth quarter.

“Our two captains Julius and Joel held it down,” Graham said.

The biggest of Graham’s layups was in the fourth quarter with 21 seconds left when he stole the ball from Riverside’s Freddie Boles and layed it in the basket to put Kent-Meridian up by three. Boles then made the game-tying three-pointer with four seconds left. If Graham hadn’t made that play, the Ravens might have stolen the game away from the Royals.

Boles then almost won the game on his own, but was beaten by the horn as the two sides went to overtime. As anyone can imagine, the Royals’ emotions were all over the place.

“When they made that I was just like ‘Wow.’ But we came here to play. We’re not losing on our home court. This is our home court and we’re going to show them what we’re made of,” Julius Graham said.

Junior Christian Mortimer dribbles the ball up the floor. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Junior Christian Mortimer dribbles the ball up the floor. Ben Ray / The Reporter

In overtime, the game-sealing points came from the free-throw line. The line has caused the Royals trouble this season so far. But in the win over Lindbergh and this one over the Ravens, staying calm under pressure proved to pay dividends for Coach Graham’s squad.

“This is two games in a row where free throws have won games,” Graham said.

“We’ve definitely been putting it work in practice (on free throws). It was a rough night for shooting, but when it came down to it, my man Joel knocked ‘em down,” Julius Graham said.

Coming into this season, the Royals lost three starters out of the lineup, and a large portion of production left with those three players. But up to this point, the Royals’ Remos and Graham are doing their best to fill those shoes.

“I forced my nephew and Joel into that leadership role...This group is buying in to what I am trying to do. They’re sponges, I’m all in for that,” Graham said.

“We just have to be leaders on the court. A lot of these guys are from JV so we just have to encourage them all the time,” Remos said.

Kent-Meridian takes on a tough Todd Beamer High School on the road Dec. 14.

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