For weeks, Andru Garrett has been anticipating playing in front of the Grain Valley faithful.
That wish came true Tuesday night, as the host Eagles managed to stop a dramatic Fort Osage comeback to claim a 78-76 victory in front of a student cheering section that provided plenty of electricity and energy.
Garrett, who moved to Grain Valley from Blue Springs, not only hit the game-winning jump shot with five seconds left on the scoreboard clock, he stole the ensuing inbounds pass to seal the Eagles’ fourth straight win.
He scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter to thwart an Indians comeback that started with 3:56 left.
That’s when Fort Osage coach Josh Wilson called a timeout and challenged his team, which was trailing by 13.
“We’re down by 13 and Ty (Baker) and I said at the same time, ‘There’s a long way to go in this game.’ And the guys responded,” Wilson said.
With his two point guards on the bench with five fouls, Eagles coach Andy Herbert watched the Indians cut into his team’s double-digit lead.
“We had some guys playing out of position and Josh is such a great coach, I know he challenged his kids and they took it to us for a while,” Herbert said. “They were hitting layup after layup – it was layup city. During one timeout, I asked our guys to start playing some defense – and they finally did.”
Grain Valley held onto a 71-70 lead at 2:14 when Garrett was fouled driving to the basket. He hit both free throws to make it 73-70.
But Xavier Kahube hit what Herbert said “seemed like the 20th layup of the quarter” to once again make it a one-point game (73-72).
Garrett was again fouled going to the basket and hit one of two from the free throw line and Fort Osage’s Baker hit a layup to knot the score at 74.
With 1:11 left in the game, Brandon Speigle hit just his second basket of the night to again give Grain Valley the upper hand, but Fort Osage’s Cahleel Smith hit – you guessed it – a layup to tie the game with 52 seconds remaining.
Herbert’s Eagles took the clock down to five seconds, without calling a timeout to set up a play, and Garrett connected from the baseline to send the student cheering section into a frenzy.
He then stole the inbounds pass and the real celebration started.
“I’ve heard so much about our great fans and our student section and I got to experience it tonight,” the 6-foot-4 guard/forward said. “It was even better than I expected. Our fans are the best. Our student section really set the tone for the game; they kept us fired up the entire game. We needed them tonight, especially in the fourth quarter.”
When asked about his late steal, Garrett admitted that he had been paying attention to who was scoring for the Indians.
“I looked in the direction of their go-to guy (Kahube) and thought the pass was going that way and I just reacted. Coach Herbert really stresses defense, although we didn’t play much of it in the fourth quarter. So I was happy to get that steal.”
While Garrett is a newcomer, Herbert said he fits like a new glove.
“You watch the way he plays, practices and interacts with the guys on the team and you’d have thought he’d been here for four years,” Herbert said. “And that’s a credit to our seniors. Here you have four seniors on the team and this new senior joins them and they could be like, ‘This is our team. What’s he doing here?’
“But they have been very welcoming and I know he feels like a part of the team – a big part.”
Garrett backed that statement.
“I love the guys on the team, the school, the Grain Valley community, everyone has made me feel so welcome,” Garrett added.
Sophomore Josh Kilpatrick was appreciative of Garrett’s generosity as twice the senior guard threaded the needle, getting the ball to the 6-4 sophomore forward, who hit layups that resulted in three-point plays.
“Andru was great tonight,” Kilpatrick said. “If anyone was open under the basket, he was going to get them the ball. I’m just a sophomore, but I got into some games last year as a freshman and that really prepared me for this season.
“I’m not nervous out there, I’m playing with a lot of confidence.”
Kilpatrick finished with 18 points and Ethan Macoubrie added 14.
The Indians had four players in double figures, led by Kahube with 17, Chad Sederwall with 13, Jared Larsen with 12 and Baker with 11.
“I’m proud of how hard we fought to come back tonight,” Wilson said, “but it’s like I just told our guys, if you play like that the first two and a half quarters of the game, you don’t need to make those comebacks in the fourth quarter.”