The Kennett varsity boys basketball program with its first-place Bootheel Conference plaques following its 91-64 conference tournament championship win against Caruthersville Friday night. Kennett will no longer compete in the Bootheel Conference after this season.
"I thought our kids were hungry," Vaughan said. "They didn't take anything for granted tonight and that's a great sign this time of the year. They wanted to come in and take care of business."
The top-seeded Kennett Indians took care of business after an electric start by the third-seeded Caruthersville Tigers in the first quarter at Malden High School.
The Tigers knocked down three 3-pointers in the first three minutes, which helped fuel a 12-0 run and put Caruthersville on top 12-2.
Kennett dominated after.
The Indians outscored Caruthersville by double digits in the second and fourth quarters and won the third quarter by five points on its way to a 91-64 win.
"We knew with our size and length we might have an edge tonight, but we also knew how hard Caruthersville was going to play," Vaughan said. "They showed that in the first quarter, but credit our kids for their composure and staying with what we needed to do. We got better defensively tonight, won the rebounding war, got in the lane and threw the ball in the post. You've got to give this one to the kids that wore the jerseys tonight."
Kennett senior guard Cameron Harper was among four players on the Indians' squad that received a special defensive assignment for the title game.
"Coach gave us a game plan," Harper said. "He wanted us to take away their best guards - No. 1 Jamal and No. 3 Rodgers. We knew their offense would come from those two. We tried to take away their game early. We didn't play well off the top, but we picked up pressure after the first quarter."
The Tigers' Steven Rodgers and Jamal Johnson still found a way to finish with double-digit scoring totals despite the additional defensive focus Kennett put on the offensive stars.
Rodgers hit all three of Caruthersville's treys on his way to a team-high 21 points. Johnson finished second in scoring for the Tigers with 16 points.
"They've got two special guards in Rodgers and Johnson," Vaughan said. "I have a lot of respect for those two. They can score the basketball and play off the dribble well. We gave four guys the responsibility to guard those two and rotated them. They still had good numbers tonight, but I think throwing two freshmen, a sophomore and our senior leader Cameron Harper at them kind of wore on them a little bit. I know they had good numbers, but I bet they didn't have a great shooting percentage. They earned what they got, but I'm not disappointed with how we guarded them."
Kennett's own offense tallied more than 20 points in each of the last three quarters.
"What is really good about our kids is we recognize who has been our most efficient scorers and we are letting that take place," Vaughan said. "Other guys are scoring when it is their time to do it in the right spots. When Kevonte and Antonio are able to give it up a little bit they are finding people at the right times. We've just got contributions at the right times right now. I thought that's how we played this week. We've got four games left before the district and we've got to grow off of how we are handling offensive situations right now."
Indians' junior Kevonte Mitchell tallied at least two field goals in every quarter on his way to a game-high 32 points. Antonio Primer also recorded at least one field goal in every quarter on his way to a 19-point total for Kennett.
"It was kind of easier this time to rebound with them than the first time we played them," Primer said. "I think we rebounded really well and that's a plus moving forward."
Kennett had three players bring down at least eight rebounds. Primer brought down a team-high 12 rebounds. Senior Collin Smith and Mitchell each collected eight rebounds.
"Caruthersville crashes the boards," Smith said. "Most of the points they got last night against Hayti were on offensive rebounds and putbacks. We knew coming into tonight they were going to crash the boards hard and if we got defensive rebounds they would foul us."
Kennett's best quarter proved to be the second quarter when it outscored Caruthersville 27-14 to move ahead 43-32 by halftime.
"Coach told us we needed to tighten up on our defense," Mitchell said. "We tightened up, came out and did our thing after the first quarter."
Caruthersville, which overcame a 17-point deficit in the final 10 minutes of regulation Thursday night to beat defending Bootheel Conference Tournament champion Hayti 75-73, trailed Kennett 66-50 at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Indians opened the fourth period on a 7-0 run to push the deficit to 73-52 with 6:04 remaining.
"Our most intense timeout was the one before the fourth quarter started," Vaughan said. "You could see in our kids eyes they weren't going to let it get away or let Caruthersville believe. Our kids were just hungry to not be denied tonight."
Akeem Nelson finished with a team-high eight assists for Kennett.
The Tigers' Coleman Tramble and Jeremy Grant tallied nine points and eight points respectively before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
"We got them in foul trouble," Harper said. "We knew we had to dominate the paint because they didn't have that much size tonight. Our guards did a good job of getting the ball in the post for us."
Kennett (13-7) will host New Madrid County Central on Senior Night at Kennett High School Tuesday. New Madrid County Central (11-6) has won its last six games to move above the .500 mark.
"I'm one of those that I hate to see the last of something so it's going to be a tough and emotional night," Vaughan said. "But it's also going to be a fun and exciting night because New Madrid has turned it on this year. Coach Day has done a tremendous job. They've got a real good guard in Jimmerson, but you cannot take anything away from what the rest of their kids are accomplishing right now. We've got to gear up for what we are going to be over the next month and the kids are going to be ready Tuesday night. It will be a great atmosphere in front of a big crowd. It's going to be the last time we play on our home floor this year so we will be ready for it."
Kennett will no longer compete in the Bootheel Conference in varsity or junior varsity boys basketball starting next season.
"From Day 1 this season we have talked every conference game we have had approaching this tournament that we won't play in this conference again," Vaughan said. "This is the last time the freshmen, sophomores and juniors along with the seniors will play in this conference. Why wouldn't we want to go out on top? I think that was displayed by how hungry our kids were tonight. They made sure we were going to be that team.
"It has been a goal all year long to finish with a clean slate and we did," Vaughan added. "We've got both first-place plaques and we are going to hang those up with the rest of them. We are proud of that, but that's not our end goal. We've got more work to do this year. We are going to use this to boost us and pursue on the rest of the year."
According to research provided by historian Al Jackson, Kennett entered the Bootheel Conference in 1993. Kennett won the regular-season conference title at the varsity level six times - 1999, 2002, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Kennett won the conference tournament at the varsity level four times - 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
"It was real big for us," Harper said of Kennett's final Bootheel Conference title. "We knew we had to go out with a bang because we would never play in this again. We had to get the win for our town."
Kennett's Collin Smith brings down a rebound in the paint in the middle of the Caruthersville defense.
CHS 18 14 18 14 - 64
KHS 16 27 23 25 - 91
CARUTHERSVILLE (64) - Jamal Johnson 16, Steven Rodgers 21, Coleman Tramble 9, Myron Woods 7, Jeremy Grant 8, Tyler Grissom 3. FG 25, FT 11/24, F 22. (3-pointers: Rodgers 3. Fouled out: Tramble, Grant)
KENNETT (91) - Cameron Harper 4, Rantrell Caruthers 5, Akeem Nelson 9, Collin Smith 8, Kevonte Mitchell 32, Harold Weeden 6, Antonio Primer 19, Materion Jones 2 Divante Taylor 6. FG 35, FT 20/33, F 18. (3-pointers: Mitchell 1. Fouled out: none)
Kennett's Kevonte Mitchell is guarded by Caruthersville's Jamal Johnson. Mitchell tallied 32 points in the conference final Friday.