Roderick Rhodes arrived on Lotts Creek five years ago talking state championships and on Sunday he delivered, as his Cordia Lions won the 2016 All “A” State Championship. It has been quite a journey for Rhodes and Cordia as the Lions have had great talent, but have had to battle the KHSAA on eligibility issues.
“We have learned a lot. It has been quite a journey. I want to represent Knott County and Cordia well. These kids have taken me on a great ride. I just want to thank the community, Superintendent Kim King, Alice Whitaker and the Knott County Board of Education for their support. We have helped a lot of kids and it’s nice to win some ball games as an addition,” commented Rhodes. “Due to the KHSAA sanctions this was our state tournament. We have geared everything toward this tournament all year,” continued Rhodes. It is a special feeling to win the whole thing and I am very proud of these kids,” added Rhodes.
The Lions won the tournament with a very unselfish team that played tremendous defense all over the court. The Lions’ size and athleticism caused their opponents trouble and created mismatches. Junior guard Anthony Nelson was named tournament MVP. Keep an eye on the silky smooth Nelson as he is a budding superstar who seems to score anytime he wants to. Senior Guard AJ Chisolm played tremendous defense and directed the Lions attack and was also named to the all-tournament team. Sophomore Guard Ramon Mercado made several big shots and was named to the all-tournament team. Senior Zeke Bialas played a great tournament. The inside combo of Malik Henry and Oumar Keita was a force to deal with and Kareem McDonald continued his great outside shooting and made several big baskets.
Cordia began the tournament with a 77-46 win over Glasgow. Two free throws by Anthony Nelson gave Cordia a 13-11 lead with 1:57 left in the first quarter. The Lions never trailed the rest of the game as Nelson came back with another free throw and stole the ball and drove for a score to extend the lead to 5 at the end of the first quarter. Glasgow cut the lead to 3 late in the second quarter, but Cordia finished on a 6-0 run to lead 32-23 at the half. Oumar Keita slammed home the final two points of the quarter. Two free throws by Kareem McDonald gave Cordia a 12 point lead with 3:46 left in the third quarter. A McDonald layup pushed the lead to 17. A aly up by AJ Chisolm pushed the lead to 20 at the end of 3 quarters and Cordia coasted to the first round win. AJ Chisolm led Cordia with 19. Anthony Nelson added 13, Ramon Mercado-11, Zeke Bialas-3, Kareem MCdonald-12, Malik Henry-9, Oumar Keita-8 and Caleb Barnett added 2 for the Lions.
Cordia faced traditional power University Heights in the quarter finals and came away with a 57-44 win to advance into the semi-finals. Anthony Nelson led the way as he scored 20. Ramon Mercado added 8, AJ Chisolm-13, Zeke Bialas-2, Oumar Keita-6, Kareem MCdonald-2 and Malik Henry added 6. The Lions got off to a fast start as they took a 8-0 lead in the first 3 minutes of action. UH slowly worked their way back into the game but a field goal by Malik Henry gave Cordia a 13-7 lead at the end of the first quarter of action. Cordia never trailed in the second quarter of action, but UH did manage to cut the lead to a field goal with 4:26 left in the half. Anthony Nelson took care of business with a score in the paint and Zeke Bialas hit two free throws. AJ Chisolm and Ramon Mercado both hit free thorws in the last 23 seconds as Cordia led 25-17 at the half. The game remained close in the third quarter and early in the 4th as the Lions led 45-40 with 3:15 remaining in the contest. AJ Chisolm made a great pass to Malik Henry for a score and Cordia led by 7. Two free throws by Chisolm pushed the lead to 9. Ramon Mercado and AJ Chisolm both canned free throws in the last 30 seconds to seal the win.
The Lions faced their toughest opponent in the semi-finals as three time defending champion Newport Central Catholic was looking to defend their crown. However the Lions were looking to begin their own streak and gutted out a huge win over the favored NCC. Malik Henry and Oumar Keita played great on the defensive end as they made NCC’s star work for everything he got. Zeke Bials continued his great play and led the Lions in rebounding with 8. Anthony Nelson led the way in scoring as he tossed in 16. Ramon Mercado added 9, AJ Chisolm-8, Zeke Bials-5, Malik Henry-4, Kareem MCDonald-3 and Oumar Keita added 2. Cordia took a 6-0 lead to begin the game, but it would be their biggest lead until the final horn sounded. The Lions led 12-11 at the end of the first quarter.
The Lions took a 20-15 lead in the second quarter as Ramon Mercado hit two free throws, but NCC fought back and Cordia led 22-21 at the half. NCC took a 25-22 lead with 6:32 left in the third and led 27-22 with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter. Anthony Nelson ended their run with a nice drive in the paint. Ramon Mercado drilled a three pointer. Oumar Keita scored in the paint as Cordia took a 31-29 lead, but the game was tied at 35 entering the 4th quarter of action. Cordia trailed 38-35 with 3:31 left in the game, but the Lions took over as they picked up the defensive pressure. Zeke Bialas made a great pass to Anthony Nelson for a score. The Nelson rolled off a screen and made a big time 3 pointer to give the Lions a 40-38 lead with 1:59 remaining. The Lions would never trail as Zeke Bials and Anthony Nelson both sank a couple free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach and Cordia reached the finals with a 47-41 win.
The Lions entered the championship game and faced a very good Murray squad with the state championship on the line. Cordia dominated the championship game as they won going away by the final score of 62-45. Anthony Nelson led a balanced attack with 14. Ramon Mercado added 12, AJ Chisolm-5, Zeke Bialas-6, Ian Spurgeon-1, Malik Henry-9, Kareem McDonald-11, and Omar Keita added 4. The game was tied at 11 at the end of the first quarter and tied at 15 with 4:35 left in the first half. The Lions dominated from that point on as Malik Henry got things started when he buried a three point shot. Ramon Mercado had back to back scores and Cordia led 24-17 at the half. Two free throws by Kareem MCDonald pushed the Cordia lead to 10 midway through the 3rd quarter. And Cordia led by 8 entering the 4th quarter of action. A lay up by Malik Henry gave the Lions a 10 point lead. Two free throws by Oumar Keita gave the Lions a 13 point lead. The lead grew to 15 as Anthony Nelson hit tow free throws and Kareem MCdonald put the nail in the coffin as he buried a three pointer that gave the Lions a 18 point lead with 2:20 left in the contest. Cordia coasted to the 61-45 win and the state championship.