A lucky bounce for North Kansas City turned into a heartbreaking ending for Blue Springs in the semifinals of the Nelson Division bracket in the 38th annual William Jewell High School Holiday Classic.
Deng Bol delivered a game-winning 3-pointer from just beyond halfcourt to give the undefeated Hornets a 61-58 victory over the Wildcats Friday night at Mabee Center.
The final shot almost didn't happen as the inbound play went off Bol's leg, but he picked up and did a spin move at halfcourt and then threw up a desperation heave that went through and punched the Hornets ticket to the championship game tonight.
For Blue Springs, it was a case of “what if.”
“It was frustrating throughout the fourth quarter,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones. “It was crazy, there was a loose ball on the floor, we didn't see it and didn't get to it and weren't aware of that situation. It was basketball from there. He made a play from halfcourt that all kids want to make.
“If we jump on the loose ball, that doesn't even happen. You have to have court awareness and keep everything in front of us. The kid picked it up and made a play, one of those you can't understand or explain try to explain to the kids. We did a lot of things to give them that chance at the end.”
The Hornets (10-0) trailed 45-38 going into the fourth quarter but outscored the Wildcats (4-4) by 10 in the fourth quarter.
Blue Springs maintained a 49-43 with 5:30 left following a 3-pointer by RJ Lawrence, who had a game-high 24. Lawrence edged closer to the 1,000-career point mark, now sitting 29 points away.
North Kansas City then went on an 11-2 run and took a 54-51 lead following TJ Babikir hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 2:21 left. Babikir had 23, 11 of which came in the first quarter.
The final 1:30 featured three lead changes, starting when Daniel Parker Jr. buried a 3-pointer in front of his team's bench to make it 56-54. A layup by Yonathan Elfu tied the game on the other end.
Parker hit 1-of-2 free throws with 21.8 seconds left to give the Wildcats the lead back, but Bol was fouled with 14.4 left and he hit both, giving the Hornets the lead back.
Jones called a timeout with 10.2 seconds left and the Wildcats had three shots at baskets inside the paint, but missed all three. The final shot from Jay'Von McKinney drew a foul with 6.7 seconds left.
He missed the first and then the Hornets called a timeout to ice him – it didn't work.
He made the next shot and tied the game at 58.
Pandemonium the ensued as the Hornets quickly inbounded the Bol, who had the ball bounced off his leg and roll halfway up the court before he recovered to hit the game-winner.
“We decided if the ball went through basket, we weren't calling a timeout just take it down in transition,” said North Kansas City coach Gerry Marlin, who guided Ruskin to a Class 4 state championship in the past. “We were in the double bonus, and we figured we would attack basket and something good would happen for us. But then the first thing we did was kick the ball, we didn't catch it cleanly. By the time we picked it up, the clock was about nothing. Then, Deng throw the ball up. On a night that nothing went right, that went in.”
Along with holding the lead going into the fourth, Blue Springs led after the second and third quarter. The Wildcats trailed 21-12 at one point in the second quarter, but a 7-0 run by Lawrence helped the team come back and a deep trey by Parker gave Blue Springs a 30-28 lead at the break.
Parker scored 11 of his 18 points in the second quarter and hit three of his four 3-pointers in that frame.
The Wildcats defense then limited the Hornets to only two baskets over the final four minutes of the third quarter, but missed a layup in the final seconds that could've extended the eight-point lead.