A Mr. Clutch Award isn’t given out in any of the Bank Midwest Holiday Basketball Classic’s three tournament divisions. But if it were, Blue Springs South guards D.J. Booker and Justin Pitts know who they’d pick for this year’s Cardinal Division winner: teammate Carl Martin, based on his performance Friday night against Class 4 No. 7 Liberty North.

A Mr. Clutch Award isn’t given out in any of the Bank Midwest Holiday Basketball Classic’s three tournament divisions. But if it were, Blue Springs South guards D.J. Booker and Justin Pitts know who they’d pick for this year’s Cardinal Division winner: teammate Carl Martin, based on his performance Friday night against Class 4 No. 7 Liberty North.

The Jaguars secured their 70-60 victory at William Jewell College and the Cardinal Division title by making eight of 10 free throw attempts during the final 1:10. Martin went 6 for 6 during the stretch.

“Those free throws were big,” said Booker, who finished with 16 points was named the division’s Most Valuable Player. “If he misses those, then they’re in the game still.”

Martin deserves a Mr. Clutch Award, said Pitts, who made the All-Tournament Team.
“He did really well,” said Pitts, who contributed 12 points.

Martin coolly sank the shots. He attributed that to the “mental toughness” the Jaguars stress during practice.

“We practice it (being mentally tough) a lot, said Martin, who finished with 13 points and was among four Jaguars in double figures, “and then with that, it just comes natural in a game.”

The Jaguars like having Martin at the line, South boys basketball coach Jimmy Cain said.

“Carl’s done it for the last couple games here,” Cain said. “He’s hit big shots toward the end.”
North sent Martin to the line out of necessity, according to Eagles Chris McCabe.
“We were running out of options,” McCabe said.  

But until the final 67 seconds, the Eagles repeatedly found ways to answer when the Jaguars made surges and threatened to pull away. South (9-1) staked a 21-12 lead early in the second quarter. North answered with an 11-2 run to tie it. From there, the Eagles led briefly, 26-25, before Wesley Poke scored a basket in the closing seconds for two of his 18 points to give the Jaguars a 27-26 halftime lead.

With the score 31-31 in the third quarter, South threatened to pull away again by posting a 14-4 run. But the Jaguars, who led 47-37 at quarter’s end, couldn’t sustain their double-digit lead during the fourth quarter.

In fact, the Eagles (10-2) made it a one-possession game with 3:04 left. With South leading 56-48, North guard Nadhir Daughtery banked in a 3-point goal. Sophomore forward Brinkely Jolly was fouled after Daughtery’s shot and made his two free throws to cut it 56-53.

The Jaguars were leading 62-58 when senior guard Levi Riley made one of two foul shots with 1:10 left to start their final surge. Martin then made two foul shots with 50.8 seconds left. After Jolly scored a field goal for the last of his 14 points, Martin sank two more free throws with 31.7 seconds left.

Booker made one of two foul shots with 22.4 seconds left before Martin’s two foul shots with 9.9 seconds left clinched it.

Winning the division title put the Jaguars “one step closer to being a better program,” Martin said. Still, they have “a long way to go” to become the program they aspire to be, according to Cain.

Consistency is key for the Jaguars to keep improving as they get into additional tournament play and the heart of their conference schedule, Cain said.

“We just have lapses, I feel like, where we don’t go hard enough,” he said. “And with our lack of size, we can’t afford that. We have to go hard on every play.”