You would think by now the Rice Bulldogs would have this Kiwanis thing licked, but a funny thing happened to the Dawgs on their way to their fourth consecutive berth in the Kiwanis boys championship game.
That's what happened, Kerens happened. And instead of cruising into the title game on Saturday, the Bulldogs had to fight for their lives to get a 67-63 win in overtime that sets up another Rice-Blooming Grove showdown Saturday night.
When Rice and BG meet for the title at 7:30 Saturday night it will be the their third consecutive meeting for the championship. Rice stormed back to win in 2017 and Blooming Grove hung on to win by a point last year.
Rice had to stage a dramatic (and early) comeback just to make it a game Friday, but the Bulldogs -- with Elizhah Nezar on the bench with five fouls -- finally put Kerens away in OT.
Ironically, the guy who started the comeback is the same one who finished it.
Kerens stunned Rice with an incredible 10-0 run to start the game, and it looked like Rice might not score in the first quarter, but after missing 11 shots (and four free throws) the Bulldogs broke through with back-to-back 3s to close to 12-6.
Then Tanner Carlisle opened the second quarter with another 3, and suddenly the large and loud Rice crowd was into it -- and so were the Bulldogs. Carlisle made 3-of-4 treys and Rice ripped off a 22-2 run and took a 22-14 lead when Carlisle and Jakobe Jessie drilled back-to-back 3s.
And it was Carlisle who nailed down the victory, hitting 4-of-6 free throws in the final minute to ice the game for Rice.
Carlisle finished with a game-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers. He made his first three bombs to ignite the early comeback and he was clutch in the OT stretch.
Carlisle, who -- believe it not -- sparked Rice's dramatic comeback win over BG in the title game in 2017 when the Dawgs scored the final 12 points of the game. He hit some big 3s in that game.
Rice made nine 3s Friday night, including three by Hayden Brown, who made Rice's first points of the night with a 3-pointer with 1:05 left in the first quarter.
"That was a big 3 and got us going," said Rice coach Antonio Burks. "And Jakobe Jessie hit a big 3 in overtime. My guys did a good job rebounding (late in the game) and they did a good job of being focused when Elizhah fouled out."
Nezar fouled out in the first minute of the four-minute overtime, but he was a force when he was on the court, scoring 17 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
Kerens' Tyler Carter also fouled out after scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. His put-back with 5.3 seconds left beat Mildred 48-47 Thursday night and he hit the court flying and was the leader on Kerens' 10-0 start.
Rice's 22-2 run might have flattened most teams, but the Bobcats just shrugged it off and staged their own comeback run, closing to 30-21 at halftime and then opening the second half with a 7-0 run that closed the gap to 30-28.
It was a battle the rest of the way and Kerens finally caught Rice with 1:17 left when Josh Brown hit a drive to knot things at 55-55, and then Brown completed the and-one play to lift Kerens to a 56-55 lead.
Nezar had a chance to get the lead back but he made only one of two free throws with 41 seconds left and the two teams headed to overtime tied at 56-56.
CJ Davis hit a pair of free throws to give Kerens a 58-56 lead but Brown hit a killer 3 to give the lead to Rice, and Kerens had trouble hanging onto the ball as turnovers hurt the Bobcats in overtime.
Rice's Michael McMillon hit a free throw to make it 59-58 and then Jessie broke the game open with a long 3 with 2:07 left to give Rice a 62-58 lead. Brown followed that with a steal and a trip to the free throw line, where he gave Rice a 63-58 lead with 1:53 left, and Carlisle made four free throws in the final minute to nail down the win.
Josh Brown led Kerens with 14 points and Ladarion Cumby followed with 13. CJ Davis and Carter scored 12 each and Desmond Lindsey followed with six points. Kam Hall (3), Day Day Davis (2) and Treylynn Lindsey (1) all scored for Kerens, which meets the Corsicana JV team in the third-place game Saturday.
Carlisle (18), Nezar (17) and Hayden Brown (13) led Rice and McMillion finished with nine points. Jessie, who made two big 3s, scored eight.