Though trailing by eight at halftime, what the Blue Springs South boys basketball team needed Monday night was a little more patience against the 3-2 zone defense employed by a lanky Park Hill South team.
That a few more defensive stops helped turn the tide, as the Jaguars erased an 11-point deficit in the third quarter and claimed the Nelson Division title of the 34th Annual William Jewell Holiday Classic with a 60-54 victory.
After hitting just 9 of 27 from the field in the first half, including 3 of 12 on 3-pointers, the Jaguars (6-1) trailed 32-24. They then had just one miss in eight third-quarter attempts to grab the lead. Kevin Puryear led all players with 18 points and added six rebounds and three assists on his way to being named tournament MVP.
“When we attack the zone, we get better shots,” the 6-foot-7 junior said. “We hit a couple 3s, and that gave us more confidence.”
While the first-half shots weren’t necessarily bad shots, Puryear said Blue Springs South could’ve worked the offense a bit more before pulling the trigger. He also had a deal with being swarmed whenever he tried to operate inside the arc.
“We chucked a little bit in the first half,” he said. “I think that’s what we adjusted to in the second half.
“I’m used to (being surrounded). When they do that it just opens it up for somebody else.”
Park Hill South (6-3) got 10 points from Payton Meek to lead the way in the first half, then extended its lead to 39-28 in the third before Blue Springs South started clicking on both ends. Puryear scored in the paint, and K.J. Robinson drained two 3-pointers from the right wing sandwiched around a Panther turnover.
A couple minutes later, Kendall Blanton’s stuff block of Hudson Welty led to two Puryear free throws at the other end. Blanton then scored off Thomas Abarca’s baseline inbound pass to give South its first lead at 40-39.
Welty answered for Park Hill South, but Brandon Kilgore’s 3-ball in the closing seconds gave the Jaguars a 43-41 lead for the fourth.
“We weren’t really attacking,” Jaguars coach Jimmy Cain said of the first half. “I thought we were sharing the ball, but we weren’t attacking gaps.
“Mostly (the offensive struggles) started with our inability to get stops. They made some baskets and were able to set their defense. I’m really proud of how the kids kept their composure even when they were down. That’s a good sign for us going forward.”
“We knew coming in they were a good team, and we had to pick up our defense to feed our offense,” Abarca said. “We had a little rhythm going.”
Abarca hit a 3-pointer after a couple Park Hill South turnovers to start the fourth, and the Jaguars’ lead reached as high as 55-45 with 2:35 remaining.
Trailing 56-48 with 1:08 left, the Panthers had a chance to really get the Mabee Center overflow crowd buzzing when Blanton was whistled for a technical foul after committing a shooting foul. Evan Hines and Meek combined to make three free throws, but Meek’s 3-pointer was too long off the rim. Jacob Towler rebounded for Blue Springs South, and Robinson and Kilgore each hit a pair of free throws to seal the win.
After Park Hill South shot 12 of 23 in the first half, the Jaguars clamped down and limited the Panthers to just 6 of 22 in the second half along with inducing eight turnovers after just two in the first half.
“Our big guys did a really good job protecting the paint,” Cain said. “(The Panthers) execute as well as anybody, so we were fortunate we were able to make a couple adjustments.
Robinson’s 17 points and Kilgore’s 11 backed Puryear, and Towler had seven rebounds and two blocks.
Meek had 15 points and Welty 13 to lead Park Hill South.
BLUE SPRINGS SOUTH 73, ROCKHURST 60: South reached the championship game after claiming a 31-26 halftime lead over the Hawklets and pulling away with a 10-0 run to start the third quarter Saturday.
Cain said the key to second half was shoring up the transition defense against Rockhurst, particularly Cartier Dean (21 points, 4 assists, 4 steals).
“I felt our half-court defense was solid,” Cain said. “We just struggled with their transition, and credit to Cartier Dean; he was difficult to handle.
“Kendall Blanton did a great job of being a leader. He was keeping guys up when things weren’t going great, and he was an absolute animal on both ends of the floor.”
The 6-8 Blanton racked up 22 points and 15 rebounds (8 offensive), while Puryear also had a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds. Kilgore pitched in 12 points and combined with Robinson for nine assists.