ALBIA — The year 2020 was going up on the banner inside the Albia High School “A” Gymnasium. That much was decided before Tuesday night. Right underneath 2009 and 2006.
Kevin Archer is proud of each of those South Central Conference championship teams he’s coached at Albia. As Tuesday’s game with Knoxville approached, however, the year 1997 was at the forefront of Blue Demon basketball fans.
“Someone came up to me over the weekend and asked me when we had last won a conference title outright,” Archer said. “I had never really thought about it. I’m so proud of those conference titles we won, but we did share both of them (with PCM in 2006 and Davis County in 2009).”
For the first time in 23 years, the Albia boys basketball team stands alone atop the SCC. Without leading scorer Kieren Nichols, Knoxville had no answers offensively for the balanced Blue Demons who dominated the final game of conference play, winning 70-32 over the Panthers to finish with a league-best 11-1 mark.
“At this time last week, we were a game out of first place and escaped at Davis County (52-48 last Tuesday) before turning around two nights later to play at Knoxville, who hadn’t lost in conference play,” Archer said. “We needed another win just to tie things up in the conference race. To play the way we have in the past week, to finish like we did and be rewarded with the outright title feels pretty great.”
Nichols had 27 points last Thursday in a 70-66 loss to Albia, a game the Panthers led by seven points with seven minutes remaining. The Panther junior entered the week hoping to reach a career milestone at Albia, needing 22 points to reach 1,000 for his career, while hoping to lead Knoxville to road wins over the Blue Demons and Davis County to earn a share of the SCC title.
Nichols never saw the floor on Tuesday, unable to even make the trip after falling ill earlier in the day. Without Nichols, Knoxville (11-6, 9-2 SCC) struggled to keep up with the Blue Demons making just six field goals n the first half and finishing 13-45 from the field.
“Kieran does so much for that team. They haven’t played without him. Probably not a second. He’s that important to that team,” Archer said. “It would be like us having to play without Blake (Chance) because of what Blake does for us running the show.”
Chance, who drilled a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer one night earlier to beat Fairfield 60-57 led Albia in the biggest home game of the season. Besides scoring 13 points, Chance had seven assists as the Blue Demons shot over 50 percent (27-49) and never looked back after opening up a 20-8 lead heading into the second quarter.
“Losing to Centerville (66-56 on Jan. 21) kind of put us in a hole. We knew we were going to have to win that game at Knoxville just to have a chance at the conference title,” Chance said. “Getting that fourth quarter comeback was big. We played great defense and scored inside. That was really special. I don’t know if having Kieren out there would have made a difference. Ultimately, we had to take care of business.”
“It’s a big day for us. We’ve worked really hard for this. We deserve this.”
Brayden Messamaker added 10 points, as did Nathaniel Wynn who came within one rebound of a double-double. Drew Chance and Jackson Pence both added eight as Albia improved to 15-2 overall.
Ben Olson led Knoxville with 11 points in the loss. The Panthers wrap up SCC play at Davis County on Thursday night.