It’s possible Justin Hall felt too wide open.
After Truman’s Dewayne Thornton drove the wing, earned a trip to the foul line and drained a pair of free throw with 11 seconds to forge a 62-62 tie, Blue Springs quickly passed ahead and Hall found himself alone on the left wing.
After taking more than a second to collect himself, the 6-foot-2 sophomore calmly rolled in a 3-pointer, lifting the Blue Springs boys basketball team to a 66-64 non-conference win over visiting Truman.
“We were just running our free throw break, and I happened to be wide open,” said Hall, who hit all four of his shots, including two earlier 3-pointers in the first half, to finish with nine points. “I was open, and I know my teammates have confidence in me, so I just decided to shoot it.
“That was a good win overall. It’s the first game we’ve actually played very good and scored points.”
Though it made the difference, Hall’s trey didn’t clinch the win for the Wildcats (4-4). Following that shot, Truman’s Michael Hernandez heaved a long inbound pass to Thornton, who got fouled as he jumped for the ball with two seconds left.
With both teams in the two-shot bonus, Thornton went back to the foul line, where he already had made 8 of 10. He canned the first one and needed to miss the second one, but his attempted line drive off the rim had trajected too high and instead banked in to make it 65-64.
“I was trying to hit it off the front of the rim so it would bounce back to me,” said Thornton, who led the Patriots (3-7) with 18 points.
Blue Springs’ Kai Miller then split a pair of free throws with .9 of a second showing, and Truman’s last-ditch inbound got knocked away.
“We needed that one,” said Blue Springs coach Adam Jones, whose team shot 22 of 40 from the field, including 8 of 12 on 3-pointers, but committed 19 turnovers. “I wished there wasn’t eight seconds left (when Hall shot); I wished there was just one. But it went in, so it was a good shot.”
Truman coach Billy Guinnee said the decisive sequence was another example of the discipline his team has lacked too often this season.
“After the free throws, they’re supposed to get back and find a man,” he said. “Instead, nobody dropped back and they got a wide-open look.
“The message I’m trying to preach, that I don’t think has gotten through yet, is this is not open gym. You have to be disciplined and run your sets, and know what you’re doing on defense. We’ve had three or four games this year we could’ve won if we stayed disciplined.”
Guinnee’s team trailed as much as 32-24 with 3:15 left in the second quarter before working the margin down to 34-30 by halftime. In the third quarter, seven points from Thornton and six each from Hernandez and Deandre Young helped the Patriots gain a 50-45 lead before the Wildcats got it down to 50-48 for the fourth.
“I thought defense was a lot better,” Guinnee said of the third quarter, “and we did a better job of boxing out and not giving them second chances. The big thing was being there on defensive rotations helping out.”
Thornton said the team had better focus in the third.
“Coach kind of chewed us up (at halftime) and told us to step it up,” he said. “We’re trying to season around because we’ve had a rough start.
Thornton’s free throws with 11 seconds left produced the sixth tie of the fourth quarter before Hall’s heroics.
While Hall had the eventual winner, Blue Springs’ top scorer was Darius Vaughn, who sank four 3-pointers on his way to 16 points before fouling out in the final minutes. Kirk Finley scored seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter and added four assists, Kai Miller and Quinton Harris added eight points apiece and Cody Isabel had seven rebounds and three assists.
“We talked before the game about just playing – playing with confidence,” Jones said. “Darius played well tonight – he was our spark offensively.
“Truman was switching up defenses on us, and we had to recognize that. I tell the kids sometimes you just get it to the hot hand, and tonight that was Darius. Kirk and Kai kind of helped us out with their driving and getting to the free throw line.”
Hernandez backed Thornton with 14 points, and Reid Titus (12) and Young (11) also cracked double figures for the Patriots.
Blue Springs’ junior varsity won 78-50 behind 15 points from Korey Wilson and 12 from Tyree King. Alex Ryan’s 11 points led Truman.