The third time was a charm for the Blue Springs South boys basketball team against Rockhurst – just like the first two times.
The Class 5 fifth-ranked Jaguars never trailed Friday against visiting Rockhurst, but it wasn’t until the South buckled down on defense and the Hawklets’ shooting hands went cold in the fourth quarter before it could pull away for a 60-47 non-conference victory.
“They know us well, so it’s a challenge and shows if we’re moving in the right direction,” South coach Jimmy Cain said after his team improved to 9-2.
In a pair of December tournament meetings, South had beaten Rockhurst (6-7) 73-67 in overtime and 68-60.
“All week we were just going our hardest,” senior forward Jacob Towler said. “We knew they’d be an improved team and would be ready to give us a fight.
The 6-foot-8 Towler went scoreless but still provided a formidable presence inside with seven rebounds and five blocks.
“My job on this team is to get rebounds and block shots,” he said. “If I get shots, it happens. We’ve got a bunch of playmakers on offense; that’s their job.”
Friday night the chief playmakers were 6-foot-7 junior forward Kevin Puryear, who drained 10 of 12 free throws on his way to a game-high 21 points, and sophomore point guard K.J. Robinson, who added 19 points and five rebounds.
Puryear’s seven points and just one team turnover helped the Jaguars build a 15-9 lead at the first stop, but South coughed it up five times in the second quarter and Rockhurst got nine points from hot-handed sub Adam Bowers to get within 27-25 at halftime.
Bowers’ corner 3-pointer off an inbound pass had tied it at 24 and prompted a timeout by Cain with 1:48 left. After the huddle, Robinson came off a screen and matched that 3, his second trey of the quarter, to give the Jaguars some breathing room.
With the teams trading baskets and the score tied at 37 in the third, Robinson took a baseline inbound and swished another 3-pointer to give South the lead for good. Backcourt mate Brandon Kilgore converted his strip-steal into a pull-up jumper, and after Kilgore saved an offensive rebound, Thomas Abarca hit another 3 to make it 45-37 with 3:02 left in the third.
“It was just within the offense,” Robinson said of his key baskets. “My teammates found me the whole game, and I happened to make shots.”
Rockhurst inched back to 46-42 by quarter’s end but got no closer in the fourth. Robinson’s driving hoop and Puryear’s two free throws pushed the margin to double digits for the first time (56-45) with 2:09 remaining. The Hawklets, getting no good looks inside and resigned to taking long jumpers, shot just 2 of 17 in the fourth quarter.
“We switched our defense up a bit, but mostly it was the kids just stepping up, getting stops and getting strong, two-handed rebounds,” Cain said of the fourth.
“We have several guys that are not afraid to take big shots. But that also comes as a result of getting it done defensively, and that’s where we try to keep our identity.”
Robinson said that’s the Jaguars’ bread and butter.
“We’re trying to win games defensively,” he said. “(The Hawklets) are a great team. We knew if we could get some hard-nosed stops we could win. They have a really good offense and run their plays really well.”
Kilgore scored all nine of his points in the second half. Puryear and Kendall Blanton snared eight rebounds apiece for the Jaguars.
Bowers and Noah Spencer (11 rebounds) netted 13 points apiece and Patrick Geha 11 points for Rockhurst.
“We went up against one of the best teams in the state, with one of the best players in the city (Puryear) and we competed for three-and-a-half quarters,” Rockhurst coach Pete Campbell said.
“That’s a credit to their defense,” he added of the fourth quarter. “They’re big, long and tough to score inside against. Sometimes your perimeter shots don’t fall in the fourth quarter. You have tired legs.”