All of the key rotation players are gone from the 2014-15 state championship Blue Springs south boys basketball squad.
A DiRenna award winner and a DiRenna finalist are no longer with the team. The Jaguars have changed a lot. They don’t have the Division I talent that they used to. That doesn’t mean they can’t compete with some of the best teams in the state, though.
They proved that point Friday and Saturday. Following a 64-63 overtime loss to No. 4 state ranked and Class 5 state runner-up Springfield Kickapoo, South hung tough with a No. 5 Nixa on Saturday. The defense, though, faltered late in a 76-68 loss to the visiting Eagles.
South head coach Jimmy Cain made it perfectly clear that he not only expects to compete with the top-tier teams in the state, he expects his team to win.
“We don’t play teams to find out if we can compete with them,” Cain said. “We expect to compete with everybody and I thought we did that, but we were very disappointed to come up short, to be honest.
“The reason we wanted to play against that caliber of competition on back-to-back nights it to make sure we get better regardless of the outcome. We have to make sure we do that.”
The Jaguars nearly did win. They held a 55-48 lead when Cale Connors, who had a career-high 15 points, stole a pass at halfcourt and converted a fastbreak layup early in the fourth period.
From that point on, however, South’s defense struggled. The Eagles scored on 13 of their next 15 possessions, including making 14 out of 17 free throw attempts. Nixa’s comeback effort was led by Seth Viebrock, who scored 21 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter on the strength of four 3-pointers.
“Our team offensively gained a lot of confidence all weekend,” Cain said. “But I think today was one of our poorest defensive performances. I don’t know if it was they were really good offensively and were tough to handle inside for us, or if we were fatigued.”
The loss marred a well-balanced offense by South. Four players scored in double figures and Connors had the best game of his career. Camron Roustic led the Jaguars with 16 points, Caden Mauck had 12 and Jared Ravencamp added 10.
“My teammates were finding me for open looks and coach drew up a couple of plays to get me some open shots and I was able to knock them down,” Connors said. “Anyone on this team can score on any given night. Everyone had that team mentality, everyone shares the ball. I think our balance will serve us well going forward.”
It was tight throughout as South led 18-17 after one period and clung to a 33-30 lead at halftime thanks to a 5-for-10 effort from behind the arc.
The Jaguars trailed midway through the third but ended the quarter on a 15-7 run capped by a rebound and floater at the buzzer from Connors to make it 50-46 South.
In the first three quarters, 6-foot-5 forward Christian Bundy hurt the Jaguars inside as he slammed home three dunks and scored 18 points.
“They were more physical inside than we were,” Cain said. “It opened things up (outside for Nixa). (Viebrock) has made game-winning plays for them and does really good things in the fourth quarter for them all year and that’s what he did tonight. He gave them the lead and that was the game.”