The only thing more difficult than guarding Blue Springs South forward Jaylon McDaniel is getting the highly-recruited sophomore to talk about his brilliance on the court.
He scored a team-high 19 points and once again wowed a hometown crowd with six highlight-reel dunks to lead the Jaguars to a 76-66 victory over defending Blue Springs School District Tournament champion Fort Smith (Ark.) Northside Thursday night in the first round.
The Jaguars advance to the semifinals and will play Rockhurst, which defeated St. Louis University High School 59-51 in the first round, at 8:30 tonight.
“This was a team win, a very big team win,” said McDaniel, one of the top- ranked forwards in the nation in his class. “Not a lot of people thought we had a chance against Fort Smith, but we knew we could compete with them and our coaches knew we could compete with them, and we went out and got the job done.”
One smooth-as-silk, in-your-face, moment of brilliance came at 2:11 of the third quarter when McDaniel blocked the shot of another national recruit, junior forward Jaylin Williams. The Jaguar sophomore grabbed the ball in midair, dribbled behind his back to avoid a Fort Smith defender in the paint and threw down a ferocious dunk.
“He is a force,” South first-year coach Josh Smith said of McDaniel after his team improved to 3-0. “But one of the best things about Jaylon is that he is a great teammate, a great team player. He really cares about his teammates, and he has so much fun just being a part of this team.”
South got quality minutes from its bench players as Ovi Johnson (15 points) and Devin Tomlinson (14 points) combined for 29 points.
“They had 29 combined?” asked Smith. “That’s what our team does – everyone contributes.”
Khayden Hooks hit five of his last six free throws in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points.
“Khayden’s free throws were big,” McDaniel said, “and so were Ovi and Devin’s points (off the bench). Like I said, this was a team win. We can enjoy it tonight and get ready for tomorrow.”
That might have been the most impactful comment of the night. Smith talked about savoring the moment, but always being ready for the next opponent.
“We don’t have many back-to-back games,” Smith said, “but we do in this tournament, and we can use these games as an example if we face the same situation later in the season.”
The Grizzlies opened the game on fire with Williams scoring eight of his 19 points in the first quarter as Fort Smith took an 18-15 lead into the second.
A buzzer-beating, three-quarter length 3-pointer by Noah Gordon gave the Grizzlies a 37-36 lead at halftime, but a 20-point South third quarter set the stage for an impressive second half.
“We knew we could play with them, but everyone thought we were going to lose tonight,” Johnson said. “We’re a young team, but we have a lot of talent. I think we proved that tonight.”
Tomlinson was 4 of 4 from 3-point range, and every time the Grizzlies made a run, he hit a huge trey.
“Sometimes I’m on, and I was on tonight,” Tomlinson said. “This was just a great win and a win where a lot of guys contributed.”
Fort Smith’s Gordon led all scorers with 21 points.