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With uncertainty on offense, King Cove uses sterling defense to win 1A state boys basketball title

Mar. 16—There was plenty of uncertainty for the King Cove boys basketball team heading into Saturday's Alaska 1A state championship game.

The team's leading scorer, Jager-Sean Brandell, had injured his foot late in the team's semifinal win Friday and his availability for the title game was in doubt.

But there was one thing the T-Jacks knew they could rely on — defense. And that's just what they did, holding an explosive Kake team scoreless for long stretches in a 39-31 win on Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center.

"I've been really blessed with this group of young men," King Cove head coach Kenneth Barbour said. "They've come along and have done everything I've asked them for. And we've always said that our defense is what's going to win games for us. We are very particular and put that as a priority. And the score showed it."

In the first quarter, the T-Jacks used a staunch zone defense to keep Kake off the scoreboard completely.

And while Brandell played, he was mostly a non-factor on offense. Fellow senior Thomas Mack had a big role early, scoring 10 points in the first half. By the end of the first quarter, King Cove led 12-0 and Kake didn't score its first points until 30 seconds into the second quarter when Tavin Chilton hit a 3-pointer.

Kake crawled back into the game in the second quarter but King Cove, with the help of Mack and eight points from Michael Gould, led 24-10 at half.

Without Brandell on offense, King Cove relied on crisp passing and timely shooting to go with the defense.

"I trust them, the kids," Barbour said. "I knew that we can score points if we were just patient with it and move the ball around."

Losing Brandell could have been devastating for King Cove. He'd had 27 points, four assists, four steals and eight rebounds in the team's semifinal win. He hobbled around for much of his game, sat out a large portion of the second quarter and said he was playing at around 40%.

Brandell said he wasn't feeling too much frustration with not being at his normal capacity.

"As long as they were doing good, I was fine," he said of his teammates. "They just passed the ball around, got open shots, working in the paint. They were doing good."

And while he was scoreless in the first half, he did hit a key 3-pointer in the third quarter.

"I didn't know," Barbour said of Brandell's availability. "It was during the warm-ups we figured it out. And you know, he did what he could. He hits that 3 at the perfect time. That's typical Jager though."

Kake, which won last year's state title and entered this game with an undefeated record, started to turn on the jets in the third quarter. They outscored King Cove 18-5 and pulled to within 29-28 entering the fourth quarter.

And when Dominic Ross made a free throw with 6:45 remaining in the fourth, the Thunderbirds had completely erased their deficit and tied the game at 29-29. But once again the T-Jacks defense rose to the occasion, holding Kake scoreless for more than six minutes as they built a lead.

"It's been like that the whole season," Barbour said. "I mean, we started the season off saying, 'We're state champions, if we're going to do these things.' And we did those things."

Chilton finished with 15 points to lead all scorers. Gould finished with 11. Mack, who had 13, was at Mt. Edgecumbe last season but decided to return home. He said he enjoyed his time at the school in Sitka and thanked his former coach at the school, Archie Young. But he said being able to return home and play with friends he grew up with was a great experience.

"It means a lot to all of us," he said. "Just all the hard work from the season."

The T-Jacks won the 1A title in 2019 when both boys and girls teams from King Cove were crowned champions.

ASAA 1A State Championship Tournament

Boys

Wednesday

Kake 65, Emmonak 44

Shaktoolik 59, Napaaqtugmiut 50

Cook Inlet Academy 64, Aqqaluk 43

Minto 59, Klawock 31

King Cove 80, 14 Aniak 40

Shishmaref 61, Kipnuk 29

Lumen Christi 63, Nunamiut 56

Scammon Bay 81, Koliganek 58

Thursday

Consolations

Napaaqtugmiut 65, Emmonak 59

Klawock 68, Aqqaluk 56

Aniak 61 Nunamiut 50

Kipnuk 51, Koliganek 50

Quarterfinals

Kake 70, Shaktoolik 59

Minto 64, Cook Inlet Academy 52

King Cove 53, Lumen Christi 29

Scammon Bay 75, Shishmaref 63

Friday

Consolations

Cook Inlet Academy 61, Shaktoolik 50

Napaaqtugmiut 51, Klawock 46

Semifinals

Kake 44, Minto 32

King Cove 71, Scammon Bay 58

Saturday

Consolation

Napaaqtugmiut 53, Aniak 48

4th/6th

Cook Inlet Academy 47, Lumen Christi 13

3rd/5th place

Minto 67, Scammon Bay 54

Championship

King Cove 39, Kake 31