Steve Blackledge The Columbus Dispatch
Usually the third or fourth wheel on Beechcroft’s Cadillac of a basketball team, Teon Jennings came through when the Cougars came out flat.
Jennings scored 17 of his game-high 24 points in a dizzying 30-10 second-quarter explosion, and Beechcroft held on to defeat Eastmoor Academy 71-66 in the 119th City League championship game Saturday at Africentric.
“I’m so excited right now, I can’t sit down,” said Jennings, who knocked down three three-pointers in the pivotal second quarter, which erased a 19-5 deficit. “When I make one of them, it seems like most of them fall after that. It just took us some time to get going, but we knew we would. When our main scorers aren’t scoring, it just opens things up for the non-scorers to pick up the slack.”
The Cougars’ No. 1 threat, Jelani Simmons, added 20 points and Datrey Long 12 as Beechcroft (20-1) equaled its season record for wins and captured its first City title-game victory since 1983.
“This is a dream come true as a coach,” said Beechcroft coach Humphrey Simmons, who is Jelani’s father. “To experience it with my son and this group that we’ve been working so hard the past few years to gain elite status, it’s hard to describe. I grew up in Columbus, and I know how important it is to be a City champion.”
PHOTOS: 2018 Columbus City League Championships
Beechcroft, which came in scoring 83.3 points per game, seemed stagnant in the early going and was kept off the boards by Eastmoor.
“There was a little bit of nervousness on our part in front of the big crowd and all,” Simmons said, “but at the same time, Eastmoor gave us something we weren’t expecting. We thought they’d try to slow us down, but they came out pressing and took control of the tempo.”
That all changed in the second quarter when Beechcroft showed why it is the No. 2 Division II team in Ohio.
“We just started playing our game,” Jelani Simmons said. “There was a lot of pressure on us to win after all these years of not being here. Coach reminded us after the first quarter that it took us four years to get here, and we weren’t going to let them take it away from us.”
The Cougars stretched their lead to 12 before Eastmoor (17-5) made a valiant comeback to chop the deficit to one at 58-57 on a three-point play by Tim Smith with 2:47 remaining.
Jennings responded with a huge three-point shot.
Long sank two foul shots with 7.3 seconds to go to finally seal the victory.
Taevion Kinsey (18 points), Smith (16), Tariq Brown (14) and Randy Olverson (14) reached double figures for Eastmoor, but the Warriors severely damaged their chances by converting just 15 of 33 free throws.
“Wow, you’ve got to do a lot more tremendous things to overcome 15 of 33,” Eastmoor coach Jim Miranda said.
“Beechcroft is super-athletic, and one of the things they do so well is attack the basket,” Miranda said. “We failed to stop that, especially in the second quarter. Teon Jennings got some open looks and really made us pay today. He was their difference-maker.”
Beechcroft and Eastmoor, seeded first and second, respectively, in the upcoming district tournament, chose opposite sides of the bracket. A potential rematch wouldn‘t occur until March 24 in the state title game.