Behind Mpanzu’s dunking exploits, Stebbins rallies past Kenton Ridge

Kenton Ridge senior guard Nasiim McKay shoots over Stebbins’ Jalen Tolbert during Friday night’s game at Kenton Ridge. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

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Kenton Ridge senior guard Nasiim McKay shoots over Stebbins’ Jalen Tolbert during Friday night’s game at Kenton Ridge. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Like breaking news on social media, the Kenton Ridge boys basketball team was trending up Tuesday night on its home court. For the first six minutes, the Cougars were making shots, grabbing rebounds and running to a 20-6 lead over Stebbins.

Then as fast as online fame can fizzle so did the Cougars.

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“Everything that got us that lead we totally went away from,” coach Kris Spriggs said. “We quit playing defense, we didn’t take care of the ball, which resulted in easy shots for them. We couldn’t get over the hump and correct what we were doing.”

And Stebbins sizzled.

The Indians cut their deficit to 23-17 by the end of the first quarter, grabbed the lead for good by the middle of the second quarter and rolled to a dominating 85-71 nonconference victory.

“The first six minutes of the basketball game was probably the ugliest six minutes of basketball I’ve ever had as a coach,” said Stebbins’ Ron Coleman, who is in the second year of his second tour as the Indians’ coach. “But the guys showed great resolve in the next six or eight minutes.”

Leading the Indians (5-4) was 6-foot-5 senior Jonathan Mpanzu with a career-high 22 points and five dunks. Mpanzu confirmed, while flashing a big smile, that five dunks are indeed a career high. He had four earlier this season against Greenon. The Indians shot 67 percent in the second half and also got 13 points from Murad Ilyasov and 11 from Tyreese Rutledge.

Mpanzu started the second quarter with a dunk off a Cougars’ turnover. His second of the half, also off a turnover, pushed the Indians’ lead to 30-27 and the momentum was their’s. The lead was 37-31 at halftime, and the Indians scored the first six points of the second half on their way to a 48-point half.

“Our guys just weren’t energetic, and we didn’t respect our opponent, which is a very bad thing,” Mpanzu said of the slow start. “When they began to run the score up we just buckled down on defense most importantly.”

Coleman is high on Mpanzu’s potential to play in college as high as the Division I mid-major level. Coleman like’s Mpanzu’s ability to attack the basket, his ballhandling and his obvious leaping ability. Extending his shooting range and getting stronger are where Mpanzu needs to grow.

“Unlimited potential,” Coleman said. “Whoever gets him will be getting a quality young man.”

Stebbins has seven seniors, but three of them are playing organized basketball for the first time. Coleman believes there is enough talent to improve and for more than just Mpanzu to play in college. And Mpanzu says the team has the potential to be much better by tournament time.

“We’ve just got to continue working, playing for each other and the sky’s the limit for us,” he said.

Kenton Ridge (4-3) was coming off blowout wins against Northeastern and Greenon.

“After the start we had I felt we were building on what we accomplished the last couple of games,” Spriggs said.

The Cougars got their usual double-figures output from Tyler Eberhart (19 points), Nasiim McKay (17) and Jameel Cosby (12). But scoring wasn’t the problem.

“They kept the pressure on and kept attacking offensively and we never had an answer,” Spriggs said. “We’ve got to make a commitment to the defensive end and do a better job.”

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