The State Fair mens basketball team matched the district title claimed 24 hours earlier by the women. The Roadrunners beat Highland 74-54 on Saturday at the Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center, holding off a late Highland run which had cut the lead to five and outscoring the Cougars 20-5 down the stretch.
Following the game, the Roadrunners celebrated with the region and district trophies and cut down the nets at one basket. Then it was the Lady Roadrunners cutting down the net at the other end of the floor in honor of their region and district titles.
“It’s a blessing that both teams were able to win and go to nationals,” said State Fair guard Kevin Punter.
Due to rotating bids among districts, the Roadrunners clinched their first NJCAA national tournament bid since 1976 by winning the Region 16 tournament last week, though Saturday’s win will help their seeding. The Roadrunners will learn Monday who they will face to open the tournament.
In the district game, the Roadrunners got 23 points from Kedar Edwards who hit 5 of 7 from 3-point range, including three in rapid succession to spark the final State Fair run.
“I’m a shooter, I like shooting,” he said. “I thought every shot I put up was going to go in so I kept shooting it.”
Highland countered by working the ball inside to 6-7 sophomore center Demarco Henry who scored 22 points.
“We knew going into it that they had a size advantage going inside,” said State Fair coach Kevin Thomas. “We tried to focus on keeping it out of the post. He’s a load. He’s a big, strong kid in there, has good hands and was able to get some stuff going.”
Henry came up with points when Highland needed them. Late in the first half, Henry contributed a dunk, a pair of free throws and a jumper to cut the State Fair lead to five. Early in the second half he added a basket inside to bring the Cougars within a point at 30-29, the closest they would be in the second half.
“At one point we couldn’t get a stop, but we stayed with it, focused in more and we started getting stops,” Punter said. “We went to a zone and they started missing shots which helped a lot.”
Highland players who got past the guards had to deal with Jean Louis Wanya, who came away with three blocks.
“That’s our insurance guy,” Punter said. “We know he’s got our back.”
Punter added 19 points along with nine rebounds and three of his team’s eight steals. Joe Thomasson scored 14 points.
State Fair opened the game with a 9-2 run, an Edwards layup, a Punter jumper and an Edwards 3-pointer getting the Roadrunners started before Thomasson hit a pull-up jumper. Moments later State Fair made it 11-4 when Thomasson found Edwards for an alley-oop in transition.
“Early on I thought we came out and were able to make some shots,” Thomas said. “I feel like our guys did a good job of sharing the ball. We were able to get some stops and able to get out and run in transition and I think that was the difference in the early part of the game.”
In the first half, State Fair opened by hitting 5 of its first 9 shots from the field but soon went cold. The Roadrunners missed 8 of their next 9 — the lone basket coming on a Kevin Punter dunk in transition. State Fair got things back on track, Dondre Alexander and Edwards hitting back-to-back 3-pointers and Alexander getting a basket off of penetration, but later in the half the shooting again went cold, the Roadrunners missing seven shots in a row. The cold spell at the end of the half allowed Highland to turn what had been a 26-14 State Fair lead into a 30-25 Roadrunners lead at halftime. State Fair went into the half shooting 12 of 34 from the field (35 percent) and hitting 4 of 14 from 3-point range (29 percent).
“We settled for a lot of jump shots and I think at first they were going in but then they started to miss,” Thomas said. “We just continued to shoot them rather than trying to attack the rim. We only shot three free throws in the first half and a lot of times, that’s an indication of us being aggressive or settling and we were settling a lot in that first half.”
After Highland got back within one point early in the second half, Wanya and Alexander got quick baskets to make it 34-29. State Fair came up empty on its next three possessions, but held Highland scoreless as well. Once the Roadrunners broke through, they got baskets from Thomasson, Punter and Edwards to make it 42-30. Grant Prusator hit a pair of 3-pointers for Highland to end a stretch where the Cougars managed just one point from 11 possessions but Punter responded with a 3-pointer of his own.
James Boone back-to-back layups on one end and a string of State Fair misses on the other brought Highland back within five points with 4:32 to play, but Edwards answered with a string of 3-pointers and State Fair never looked back.
With the national tournament just around the corner, the Roadrunners do not have much time to celebrate. After cutting down the nets on Saturday, Thomas gave his team Sunday off and plans to have them take Monday off as well before going back to work.
“Tuesday we’ll get back at it and try to stay sharp and get ready for who our opponent is,” Thomas said.