Trailing at halftime following a sluggish first half, it was go time Friday for the Davenport Central boys basketball team.
"It was a reality check — win or go home — and we aren’t ready to quit playing," Blue Devils senior Keshawn Pegues said. "It was time. We had to come out and pick it up."
Pegues scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half to help lead Central to a 61-56 victory over Cedar Rapids Kennedy in an Iowa Class 4A substate semifinal at George Marshall Gym.
The win moves the Blue Devils into a 7 p.m. substate final at Muscatine on Tuesday against Iowa City West, a 74-39 winner Friday over Davenport West.
Central earned that opportunity first by ratcheting up its defensive pressure and then by holding off the Cougars with an 8-of-10 touch at the free-throw line down the stretch.
"They made some good adjustments at halftime, took away some passes down the middle that had been good to us in the first half," Kennedy coach Jon McKowen said. "They turned up the pressure a bit. That led to three runout layups, and when they did that, it seemed to allow them to get their offense going."
The Blue Devils needed that spark after getting into early foul trouble and falling behind 34-26 before senior Ralph Hayes provided Central with a shot of momentum in the final minute of the second quarter.
Hayes scored on a putback with 46 seconds left and then buried a buzzer-beating 3-point shot from the left wing to pull Central within 34-31 at the break.
"That got us going," Blue Devils sophomore John Miller said. "We needed that. I needed that. It told us all that it was time to put up a fight. It was a big basket."
From that point on, Central never looked back.
Defensive pressure forced Kennedy into six of its 15 turnovers in the third quarter, facilitating a run of 14 unanswered points which allowed the Blue Devils to surge ahead.
"They made us earn it. Kennedy fought hard, played well and it took us time to adjust to their physicality," Central coach Craig Wurdinger said. "We rebounded better in the second half, got to some loose balls and that gave us a chance."
The Blue Devils tied the game at 36-36 and then move ahead to stay on back-to-back 3-pointers by Kaiden Phillips with just under six minutes left in the quarter.
Central (16-6) built a 49-38 lead on a basket by Pegues with 1:33 remaining in the third, but Kennedy answered with an 11-2 run of their own.
The Cougars pulled within 51-49 with 4:08 remaining on a 3-pointer by Jack Wetzel, who led Kennedy with 27 points.
The Blue Devils worked the clock and Josh English drove the lane for a basket with 3:35 left as Central regained a four-point edge.
But, another 3 by Wetzel inched the Cougars (10-12) within 53-52 with 3:12 left before Central went to work at the line.
Miller, who matched Pegues’ 19-point effort, connected on 5-of-6 tries including a pair that extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 59-54 after a midcourt steal by Amari Porter.
"We did a nice job of closing things out," Wurdinger said. "This is the time of year when guys need to step up and make a play or hit a free throw late in a game that makes a difference. It was good to see our guys do that."