Jeilel Phillips had no idea what it felt like to step on center stage, face the spotlight and enjoy that special moment as a prime time player.
That all changed Monday night at Truman High School, as the Patriots sophomore scored eight fourth-quarter points to lead the host team and No. 5 seed to a 54-47 Class 5 District 15 first-round victory over No. 4 Fort Osage.
Truman led 40-36 with 3:09 left in the fourth quarter when Phillips drove to the basket for a layup, and was fouled.
He hit the free throw, then followed that offensive series with another layup. The next time Truman had the ball, Phillips was fouled and hit two more free throws – scoring seven points in a row to make sure his 4-21 Patriots lived to play another day.
“Jeilel was the man tonight,” said fellow sophomore Kaimen Lennox, the son of Van Horn boys basketball coach A.B. Lennox and the nephew of former Fort Osage and WNBA star Betty Lennox. “A lot of times this season, teams have tried to stop me – but tonight, it was all Jeilel. He just took the game over the fourth quarter. They tried to stop him and they couldn’t.”
While Lennox refused to stand center stage, he easily could have shared the spotlight with his teammate as he made all eight of his free throws in the fourth quarter to finish with 12 points.
Phillips scored a game-high 19 points and was the center of attention following the victory as he was congratulated by fans, friends and teammates after the biggest win of the season.
“I don’t know what all this attention is about,” said Phillips, who worked his way up from the junior varsity team to a starting role in the Patriots lineup. “This was really a team win. We all fought hard all night and contributed.
“When I got that late basket and free throw, I got the perfect pass from my man Keaton (Wiley). I was all alone under the basket and kept thinking, ‘You gotta make this layup.’ And I was able to make it, then I got fouled and I was thinking, ‘You gotta make this free throw.’
“And I made it. And I scored some points and we won – and winning in the playoffs is the best feeling in the world. I don’t think anyone really thought we’d win tonight, but we were confident. Coach (Rod) Briggs told us at practice we’re not 3-21 going into the playoffs, we’re 0-0 and we all believed him.”
And Briggs, a fiery coach whose team survived his second-quarter technical foul that gave the Indians four points and a temporary 16-15 lead, said he had a good feeling going into the game because his team had been working so hard in practice.
“We’ve had some great practices,” Briggs said, “and I really felt like we could win, even though we lost to them last week. We had some intense practices this week and they really paid off. The players responded to our challenge and I think they did believe they could win tonight. I know our coaches believed that we would win.”
Josh Wilson thought his fourth-seeded Indians (6-19) could win, too, but nothing went right for Fort Osage from the opening tip-off.
“We did all the things tonight we talked about not doing, if we were going to have a chance to win this game,” Wilson said. “Turnovers, hitting free throws, getting the good shot – we didn’t do any of those things tonight.”
The Indians turned the ball over on their first four possessions to start the game, and on five of their first six in the third period.
While Truman hit 11 free throws in a row in the fourth quarter, the Indians struggled at the line, going just 4 of 10 in the third quarter and just 12 of 22 for the game.
“What’s disappointing is that we talked about everything that we needed to do to win this game, and we didn’t do it,” Wilson said after a lengthy postgame session with his players. “I don’t think we were overconfident, because we don’t have the best record in the world.
“But the turnovers and our problem at the free throw line were really frustrating for me, because those are two things we pride ourselves on.”
Dez Griswold, Ty Baker and Chad Sederwall all scored nine points to pace Fort Osage.