For 3 1/2 quarters, the Blue Springs South boys basketball team got all it could handle from crosstown rival Blue Springs in the Class 5 District 13 semifinals at Raytown High School.
But the sixth-ranked Jaguars showed the moxie that helped them enter the postseason with a 20-4 record, overcoming their free throw woes to inch away from the Wildcats for a 54-49 win.
“We’re expecting that every game. Teams are fighting for their lives,” South coach Jimmy Cain said after his team beat Blue Springs for the third time this season. “I’m really proud of the way they stayed tough down the stretch. They stayed with a lot of what we were trying to do on both ends of the floor.”
With the teams tied at 35 entering the fourth quarter, South forward Kevin Puryear missed a pair of free throws, making the Jaguars 6 of 17 from the line. Blue Springs’ Cody Isabel then scored down low and converted a three-point play.
That proved to be the Wildcats’ last lead, as Puryear responded with putback and K.J. Robinson drained a 3-pointer in front of his team’s bench for a 40-38 lead with six minutes left.
“My teammate, Kendall Blanton, gave me a screen,” said Robinson, who hit 3s in each of the previous three quarters and led all players with 19 points. “I wanted to dump it down to him, but he stopped and set a screen, it gave me a shot and I was able to hit it.
“That was a dogfight – a tough game.”
Blue Springs forged ties at 40 and 42, the last of the game’s nine ties (the lead also changed hands 14 times), before Puryear’s second-chance basket started a decisive 9-0 run. The Wildcats committed two turnovers during that spurt, the latter leading to Robinson’s runout assist to Brandon Kilgore for a 51-42 lead with 36 seconds left.
“They took the lead, we had a key turnover, and they went down and got it inside,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “That was kind of the separation, and then we had to foul them.”
Cody Isabel, one of Blue Springs' two seniors, said the Wildcats made just a few too many mistakes.
“We had it how we wanted,” said the 6-foot-6 Isabel, who tallied 13 points and nine rebounds. “We were doing to them what we wanted to do. A few rebounds, a few turnovers, and we would’ve had it.”
As it had in the teams’ first meeting, Blue Springs executed its patient, four-corners, drive-based offense well enough to keep pace. Taysean Goodwin’s basket produced a 22-16 lead in the second quarter, but the Wildcats went scoreless for the final three minutes before halftime, and baskets by Puryear and Jacob Towler sandwich around a Robinson trey gave South a 23-22 halftime lead.
Blue Springs shot reasonably well (21 of 45) and owned a 31-21 rebounding advantage, but the Wildcats committed 11 turnovers compared to just four by the Jaguars (21-4), who were just 12 of 28 on free throws but shot 19 of 37 from the field.
“You’ve got to find a way to win in different ways,” Cain said after his team advanced to play Lee's Summit (18-7), a 67-54 winner over Raytown, in Friday's 7:45 p.m. championship game. “We got to the line well, but we just didn’t convert.”
“Credit them; they played really well,” he said of the Cats. “We knew what they were doing (on offense). We weren’t very good with our rotations at times. I think we were good enough when we needed to be.”
Puryear’s 13 points backed Robinson. Towler scored all eight of his points in the first half, and Kilgore scored all of his seven in the final minute, hitting 5 of 6 free throws.
Darius Vaughn, Blue Springs’ other senior, matched Isabel’s 13 points, Goodwin added nine points, Brian Armstrong eight and Kirk Finley six.
“I’m so proud of the guys,” Jones said after his team finished 14-12. “I know a lot of coaches are saying that, but this is probably one of the most resilient teams I’ve been around. They bounced back from adversity, and they really embraced the toughness we’re trying to preach.”