Tyller Bell already leads the Kayhi boys basketball team in rebounds, assists and steals on an almost nightly basis. On Friday, the senior guard added another accolade - leading scorer.
Bell scored a team-high 23 points - 16 in the second half - and the Kings held on for a 66-59 win over Southeast Conference foe Thunder Mountain at Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium.
"I felt a little bit more confident today, and it just came to me," Bell said. "It was just one of those days. I was in the zone."
Kayhi (14-5, 4-1 Southeast) inched closer to securing the No. 1 seed at the 4A Southeast Regional by beating Juneau's Thunder Mountain (7-8, 1-4) in the first game of a two-game set. The Kings can clinch the top seed by beating Thunder Mountain Saturday, and winning even one of two road games against Juneau-Douglas next weekend.
Thunder Mountain is on the brink of being eliminated from the conference race after dropping four consecutive conference games, but made things difficult for Kayhi Friday.
The Falcons trailed 49-38 early in the fourth quarter before launching a 13-4 run, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Cody Grussendorf and a basket by DeAndre "Jazz" King, to pull within two points at the 3:26 mark.
"Our energy level was just down," Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco said. "I was just trying to find ways to spark them, and I kept reminding them that it's got to come from the defense."
Kayhi junior Chas Allen broke the run with a pair of free throws that made it 55-51 with 2:44 remaining, and Bell followed that with a transition layup to push the Kings' advantage to six.
Grussendorf slashed that lead in half with a 3-pointer with 1:50 left, but 23 seconds later, Bell banked in another layup to put Kayhi ahead 59-54.
The Falcons never got closer.
"Basketball is a game of runs," Kayhi coach Eric Stockhausen said. "I have a lot of faith in these kids. When they throw the ball away, I don't need to call timeout to tell them they threw the ball away. ... They're smart enough."
Bell had 11 rebounds to go with his season-high point total, and fittingly grabbed the rebound on a missed free throw by Thunder Mountain's Tory Franzen as time expired. Whicker finished the game with 19 points, hitting all eight of his free throws. Allen had seven points.
Grussendorf led all scorers with 30 points for Thunder Mountain, but the Kings were able to hold senior guard Reese Saviers to two points on a pair of third-quarter free throws. King scored 12 for the Falcons.
"We know Reese Saviers is one of the better players in Southeast, and we know he's going to be on," Stockhausen said. "We're going to have to play, defensively, a lot better" Saturday.
Bell leads Kayhi in rebounds (7.4), assists (3.4) and steals (3.3) per game, and his 11.8 points per game average is second only to Whicker's 24.7. But even Bell was quiet in the first half as Kayhi started slowly in its first official game since Jan. 30.
The Kings only had two points midway through the first quarter, and didn't lead until Whicker hit a pair of free throws to put them ahead 10-8 with 1:15 left in the period.
"The whole game felt a little sloppy," Whicker said. "The defensive end, we could have picked it up. ... We need to come out and play better tomorrow."
Kayhi led 26-23 at halftime, then used a full-court press to jumpstart its offense in the second half. Bell started a 9-2 run with a 3-pointer that made it 29-23, and ended it with a spinning layup around Grussendorf to give Kayhi a 35-25 advantage with 5:47 left in the third quarter. The Kings scored 40 of their 66 points after halftime.
"We wanted to pick things up a little bit," Bell said. "We wanted (the Falcons) to push themselves a little bit more, and just pick up" the pace.
Kayhi and Thunder Mountain will play the series' second game Saturday at 7:15 p.m. The Kings will be celebrating Senior Night. That follows the Kayhi C team game at 4:00 p.m., and the JV game at 5:30 p.m.
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