No one associated with the Blue Springs boys basketball program was happy about a season-opening 79-65 loss to Park Hill South Saturday in the 810varsity Tipoff Classic at Liberty, but positives abounded in several aspects for a Wildcats team extremely short on varsity experience.
Blue Springs played a Panthers squad that is considered one of the best teams in the city even for three quarters, entering the fourth tied 49-49 despite all of its players except guards RJ Lawrence and Stefan Black II – forward Daniel Parker Jr. was on a football recruiting visit at Missouri – seeing their first varsity action.
And Lawrence – the Examiner’s 2016-17 Boys Basketball Player of the Year – came back from a shoulder injury a few weeks sooner than expected and showed no ill effects in scoring 17 points to lead three Wildcats in double figures.
“We’re a young team, but every single one of our players gets after it,” Lawrence said. “When we play fast and uptempo we can be one of the best teams in the conference if we do it well. We just have to keep playing hard on defense and it will all come.”
Both teams pushed the pace the entire game.
The Wildcats led for several stretches in the first half thanks to seven different players scoring as they built leads of 17-12 and 30-25.
But Park Hill South ended the half on a 12-3 run, and once Dawson Owen hit a 3-pointer to put the Panthers ahead 34-32, Blue Springs never led again.
“In the first half I thought we defended really well,” Wildcats coach Adam Jones said. “I thought we rebounded and took advantage of their quick shots, but we have a lot of things to clean up.”
Blue Springs tied the game three times in the third, the last coming on Lawrence’s drive to the basket in the frame’s final seconds.
“We played good defense and got good shots out of the offense that we ran and executed the way we should have for the first three quarters,” said Jay’von McKinney, who hit three 3-pointers and finished with 15 points for the Wildcats.
Park Hill South (2-0) immediately took control in the fourth, as Lamel Robinson – who led all scorers with 23 – tallied five points in the first 20 seconds to spur a 21-5 run in which CJ Lee dominated the paint, pouring in eight of his 11 points.
“The types of shots we were taking in the fourth weren’t coming off the pass, they were coming off the bounce and they were contested shots,” Jones said. “We had a lot of empty possessions where we wouldn’t get a shot off and were a little stagnant on offense. … We’re not there yet. We have to be able to make in-game adjustments and I don’t think we adjusted very well in the second half.”
Black finished with 13 points for Blue Springs (0-1), which hosts its own Blue Springs School District Tournament this week starting Thursday.
Even though the result wasn’t the desired one, Lawrence noted the game was a productive one for Blue Springs.
“South presents a lot of athleticism and that (tough team) that we have to play against all season,” he said. “Almost every single team in our conference is going to be that intense and that physical. Playing against them the very first game really shows us what we need to work on and what we have that we can build on and get stronger with.”