It was clear who Truman’s go-to player would be in crunch time during a nailbiter against Blue Springs.
Junior guard Kaimen Lennox, who’s been the Patriots most consistent scorer, took over late in the fourth quarter. He nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing with 7.2 seconds left to put the Patriots up by one.
Blue Springs sophomore forward Eli Wingert got a good look on a jumper about 10 feet away from the basket in the Wildcats’ final possession. However, the shot bounced off the back of the rim and fell to the floor as time expired. Truman held on for a 49-48 non-conference road victory Friday.
“That play was set up for Eli,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said of the final shot. “He is probably our biggest threat to get to the rim. He did a great job getting a good angle. He attacked and got a good look. It just didn’t fall.”
Moments before that, Lennox inbounded the ball and managed to work his way to an open shot for the game-winner. He scored seven of Truman’s last nine points.
“We couldn’t get an easy two to tie it, so that was our second option,” Truman coach Rod Briggs said of Lennox’s big shot. “We thought they might lose him on the inbound, and that’s kind of what happened. They were forced to help inside so his man lost him.
“He’s a good player, and good players make big plays. That’s what he did.”
Lennox has thrived in late-game situations this season, and said he enjoys those moments.
“I hadn’t been hitting shots all game, so I thought I need to make this one,” said Lennox, who had a team-high 14 points. “There was a big crowd, and possibly some (college) coaches here, I felt like it was my time to shine.”
After trailing for most of the first half, the Wildcats led 38-31 going into the fourth quarter. Truman began the period on a 8-0 run largely thanks to a full-court press. Sam Billimon capped the spurt with a spin move and a jumper in the lane to put the Patriots up 39-38.
Blue Springs sophomore guard Xavier Loyd, who had a game-high 17 points, converted on a conventional three-point play to put the Wildcats back up by two. However, Truman guard Jordan McKinney drove to the free throw line and kicked a pass out to Billimon, who sank a 3-pointer to put Truman up 42-41.
“Sam has struggled this year with his shot but he makes them in practice,” Briggs said. “It was only a matter of time before he started making them.”
Lennox extended the lead to three points when he got a steal and a fast-break layup with a hand in his face.
Blue Springs went on a 5-0 spurt from there and it was capped when senior guard Prince Griffin stole a pass at the top of the key and made a layup in transition to put Blue Springs ahead 46-44.
Lennox made a pair of free throws to tie it, but Griffin made two of his own to put the Wildcats back in front. Billimon missed a three on the ensuing possession and Loyd came up with the rebound. However, Billimon tied him up for a jump ball and the possession went back to Truman (5-6), setting up Lennox’s game-winning shot.
“He’s been hitting clutch shots all year long,” Billimon, who scored 13 points, said of Lennox. “Whenever he gets the ball, I know it’s going to go in.”
Jones said his Wildcats (3-9) made some strides in a season in which they’ve struggled.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” Jones said. “I think we did a lot of things in the first half to give ourselves a chance. Our energy tonight was tremendous. I thought we did some really good things.”
Truman junior forward Macio Moananu hit a pair of 3-pointers to help his team take a 14-11 lead in the first quarter. Loyd and Wingert combined for 10 points in the second period to help Blue Springs take 23-22 halftime lead. The Wildcats extended that lead to 38-31 in the third before the Lennox and the Truman defense took over in the fourth.
“Cam Robins got us back in the game with his defense,” Briggs said. “When he got the steal on the inbounds, that was huge.”
Wingert was the only other Wildcat in double figures with 12.