As a dogged Blue Springs boys basketball team did its best to negate the size advantage of Blue Springs South, the favored Jaguars had to make sure they didn’t lose their mental edge Friday on the Wildcats’ home court.
The last big test came when South went scoreless the first four minutes of the fourth quarter and watched its 10-point lead get sliced in half.
But a key defensive stop by South led to a dagger of a 3-pointer from sophomore K.J. Robinson with 3:11 remaining, and the Class 5 sixth-ranked Jaguars made 8 of 11 free throws from there to complete a 59-44 Suburban Big Six victory over their crosstown rival.
An earlier 3-pointer by Robinson following a Thomas Abarca steal gave South (13-3, 2-0 Big Six) its biggest lead at 40-28 late in the third quarter. But Blue Springs (9-7, 0-2) stayed true to its patient, spread-the-floor offensive plan, and five points from Cody Isabel, a pair of Kirk Finley free throws and Taysean Goodwin’s basket off a Brian Armstrong steal had the Wildcats within 42-37 midway through the fourth.
After a South miss, Blue Springs had a chance to produce a one-possession game, but Jacob Towler neatly blocked a driving shot to teammate Kendall Blanton. Robinson hit the last of his three treys, and the Wildcats couldn’t manage a last-ditch threat.
“(The Wildcats) are a good team. They fought hard. I’m proud of our guys with staying patient and not getting frustrated with the pace of the game,” South coach Jimmy Cain said. “I’m proud of the guys showing a lot of mental toughness.
“We were in really good position,” he said of the defensive stop. “Kendall was holding his ground, and Jacob came from behind.”
South forward Kevin Puryear, who scored 12 of his 18 points in the first half, agreed the Jaguars were mentally tough in the second half – not an easy task.
“The toughest part for us was being patient,” Puryear said. “We’re not used to teams slowing it down. They were good competition, and that’s what makes the Big Six so tough.”
Blue Springs spent much of the game patiently looking for opportunities to dribble penetrate, and the slow-it-down approach worked the better part of three quarters.
Kirk Finley (16 points, 3 assists) especially did some damage. After Puryear threw down a dunk off Brandon Kilgore’s alley-oop pass and swished a top-of-the-key 3-pointer on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, giving South a 22-13 lead, Finley’s basket and two assists led a 9-2 spurt to get the Wildcats back in it.
“I felt like our game plan was executed perfectly until K.J. hit that 3-pointer with 3:10 left,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “We had a couple more opportunities where we had a turnover or got blocked.
“We were trying to get their bigs away from the basket. When you’ve got a team like Jimmy does that’s so big, we’ve got to do something different.”
Isabel (11 rebounds) and Brian Armstrong backed Finley with seven points apiece for Blue Springs.
Robinson led all players with 19 points. Abarca added seven points and three steals off the bench, while Blanton snared eight rebounds and combined with Towler for five blocks.
Admittedly, Blue Springs’ offensive set gave South some problems, but Cain said his team didn’t get rattled and stayed with its defense plan down the stretch.
“We just kept doing what we do,” he said. “We defended the ball better and were a little quicker from the weakside. Credit (Blue Springs) for making some tough plays.”
Blue Springs’ junior varsity outlasted South for a 70-62 win.