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Taylor scores 22, blocks JEHS upset

Larente Taylor came up big on both ends of the floor for the Patriots Friday night, propelling top-seeded LHS to a 54-52 win over John Essex in the first round of the AHSAA Class 1A, Area 5 Tournament.

Taylor was the Patriots’ only consistent offensive force in the game, hanging 22 points on the board. But it was one play with 35 seconds to go that won his team the game.

With the Patriots leading 53-52, John Essex grabbed a key rebound off a Linden miss and kicked the ball quickly up the court to a streaking A.J. Bennett. With no defender in his vicinity, Bennett went up for the go-ahead layup.

Taylor flashed in from behind, reaching over Bennett’s left shoulder and swatting the ball off the backboard for the block. Terris Lewis grabbed the rebound to secure the possession.

“I’m thinking right there after we missed that layup, we’re fixing to lose the game,” Linden head coach Roosevelt Moore said. “And Larente came out of nowhere and blocked it off the glass. That was a game-changing play. That kept the season alive. It was a great hustle play.”

The Taylor block derailed a John Essex comeback attempt that saw its share of heroics. After taking a 29-25 lead into the intermission, Essex watched Linden use its press to create turnovers and feed an uptempo offense that rushed out to a double-digit advantage.

“We played hard,” JEHS coach Donald Constant said. “I still wasn’t satisfied with the way we rebounded tonight. As far as effort, I was very pleased. Missing free throws and easy shots right there under the basket cost us. We didn’t get on the boards offensively or defensively. The small things killed us all year.”

Taylor’s 22 led all scorers. Gerald Bruno added 14 for the Patriots while Justin Delaine had a game high 11 rebounds. A.J. Bennett led John Essex with 16 points. Letrelle Griffin contributed 13 while Keonte Alvis scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

The win advances Linden to the tournament finals where it will play Sunshine Monday at 6 p.m. It also clinches the Patriots spot in next week’s sub regional round.

“I think the home court advantage is a big thing,” Moore said of the sub regional home court advantage his team would earn by topping Sunshine Monday.