When the outcome of the game was still in the balance, one of Blue Springs’ youngest players stepped up.
Freshman Kyle Bruce knocked on four straight free throws and helped the Wildcats escape with a 59-50 victory over Lincoln College Prep in the consolation bracket of the Nelson Division at the 39th annual William Jewell High School Holiday Classic.
Bruce finished with 14 points, one off the team-high mark of Eli Wingert, and was a perfect 8-for-8 at the free-throw line.
“The freshman came down and knocked down free throws like he’s been doing this his whole life,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “Him stepping up, saying ‘I can make these’ really set the tone.”
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak the Wildcats (3-7) and set up a fifth-place game with Winnetonka at noon on Saturday at the Mabee Center.
Blue Springs led 39-32 going into the fourth, but midway through the frame, the lead went away. Lincoln Prep’s Daryl Williams made a lay-up with 4 minutes, 30 seconds left to tie the game at 43. He then hit a 3-pointer after Blue Springs missed a one-and-one free throw.
Jones called a timeout after that basket and the Wildcats responded with a 7-0 run. Xavier Loyd’s only 3-pointer of the day gave Blue Springs a 48-46 lead over the Tigers (2-8). Bruce missed a shot and Wingert grabbed the offensive rebound and made a putback layup to make it 50-46.
Lincoln College Prep twice pulled within two, 50-48 and 52-50, over the final two minutes.
Up by two with 47 seconds left, Bruce hit two free throws. With 35 seconds left, he hit two more. Cooper Willich was fouled with 23 seconds left and hit the first of his two attempts. He missed the second, but got the rebound and scored the final points of the game.
“It is a pretty big win,” said Wingert, who added a team-high nine rebounds. “We lost a few games in a row, and we wanted to get one (win) here. The first half was really back and forth and they got us down with five minutes to go, but we came back. It was good to fight back.”
Blue Springs trailed 12-11 after the opening frame against the Tigers, but led 25-23 at halftime.
There were six lead changes and three ties in the second quarter.
The Wildcats regained the lead on back-to-back buckets in the paint, from Loyd and Wingert, on offensive rebounds and putbacks with six minutes to play in the third. Bruce’s buzzer beater with 1.6 seconds left made it 39-32 going into the fourth.
Arthur Weston, Jr., who had a game-high 21 points for Lincoln Prep, was limited to only two free throws in the fourth.
“We got a lot of young kids, they are learning what it takes to play on this level, and they have taken one on the chin a bunch,” Jones said. “They keep coming back, working their tail off, and competing every night. That is why you coach high school basketball.”