Blue Springs South boys basketball coach Josh Smith couldn’t pinpoint how his team let the game slip away in the fourth quarter Friday night, not without getting a chance to look at the game film. But he did know there was one big reason.
Rockhurst senior Darius Hughes.
Hughes, Rockhurst’s bruising 6-foot-5 guard, scored eight of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, igniting an 11-2 run that put Rockhurst in control and on its way to a 64-60 victory in the semifinals of the Blue Springs School District Tournament at South.
South (3-1) did manage two ties after Rockhurst’s run, but the Jaguars went from keeping the lead most of the game to struggling to catch up.
“Darius Hughes is a heck of a high school basketball player,” Smith said. “He’s versatile, he’s strong, he’s experienced, he’s tough to handle. And in games like this, players make plays.”
South entered the fourth quarter clinging to a 44-42 lead, an advantage the Jaguars managed to hold from early in the game with five ties. But when Hughes sandwiched two slams around a 3-pointer and added another midway through the quarter, Rockhurst (4-0) found itself with the momentum and a 53-48 lead.
South fought back for a 53-53 tie and made it 56-56 with 1:26 left when Caleb Israelite drained the last three of his game-high 25 points. But Rockhurst went 6 of 6 from the line in the final minute to hold off the Jaguars.
“You shouldn’t be happy when you come up on the short end of a result,” Smith said. “But as far as the fight we showed, I was very, very proud of our effort.”
South had the upper hand early on thanks to its outside shooting, especially from Israelite. A 5-11 senior guard, Israelite went seven for 10 from 3-point range as the Jaguars popped a total of nine treys.
Israelite went 4 of 4 from behind the arc in the first quarter, which ended with the Jaguars up 21-16.
“My teammates found me right from the get-go,” Israelite said. “We came out with a lot of energy and we came out competing.”
The threes took some of the pressure off South big man Jaylon McDaniel, who managed 13 points as he battled inside with Hughes and 6-4 forward AJ White.
But Rockhurst also has outside shooters like senior Glen McClintock, who hit two of the Hawklets’ eight threes on his way to 20 points. Three different Hawklets hit threes in the last half of the second quarter and turned South’s 27-18 lead early in the period into a 31-31 halftime tie.
South didn’t help itself at the free throw line. The Jaguars went 3 of 9 from the stripe and didn’t make a free throw until the fourth quarter. Rockhurst, on the other hand, made 10 of 11 free throws.
The loss put South in the third-place game against Jennings at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. Jennings, a Class 4 final four team last season, was routed by Bentonville (Ark.) 68-38 in the other semifinal. Bentonville and Rockhurst will meet in the championship game at 6 p.m.
WILDCATS PLAYING FOR SEVENTH: Blue Springs will play for seventh place after falling to Jefferson City 59-49 in Friday’s consolation semifinals.
Blue Springs (1-4) held a 29-28 lead at halftime, but Jefferson City (3-1) outscored the Wildcats 21-11 in the fourth quarter.
Kaden Spruell scored 15 points to lead Blue Springs. The Wildcats will play St. Louis University High, a 74-43 loser to Fort Smith (Ark.) Northside, for seventh place at 1 p.m.