Blue Springs South had to go through a good portion of the first half against crosstown rival Blue Springs without two of its starters – junior Khayden Hooks and sophomore forward Jaylon McDaniel.
Both of them had to sit early due to having two fouls as South head coach Josh Smith elected to save them for the second half.
That turned out to be a good decision.
The Jaguars had a 25-15 halftime lead but Blue Springs stormed back to narrow the gap to 36-32 late in the third quarter. Hooks and McDaniel powered the South offense in the fourth quarter, combining for 16 of the Jags’ 22 points in the period to capture a 60-48 decision over the Wildcats in Suburban Big Six Conference action.
Before the game, Smith said he knew Blue Springs would test his Jaguars and would make a big run at some point during a home game.
“We actually talked about it yesterday in practice,” Smith said. “There would be a moment over here in front of their home crowd that they would make some plays and they would be energized and we would have to respond. Fortunately, we were able to do that. We were tested. I knew we would be.”
He was right. South went up 32-17 early in the third after junior forward Cade Berg made a driving layup for two of his 12 points. That’s when Blue Springs made its move.
The Wildcats went on a 15-4 run to cut the lead to four after the Jaguars had a comfortable lead for most of the game. Sophomore forward Najee Williams, a transfer from Truman who had a team-high 14 points, started the run with a 3-pointer and later had a putback layup. Kyle Bruce nailed a trey and Kaden Spruell, who had 11 points, finished the spurt with a fast-break layup off a steal from Eli Wingert. Blue Springs missed its last three shots of the period, though, and South went into the fourth up 38-32.
The Jaguars began the fourth on a 14-5 spurt spearheaded by Hooks and McDaniel, who started the run with a putback layup. McDaniel then injected some extra energy into his team with a pair of dunks. The last one came on a lob from Haden Humphreys after Berg made the steal. Humphreys repeatedly waved his arms up in the air after the highlight-reel play.
“They almost got too energized,” Smith said of the Wildcats and their fans. “Maybe I shouldn’t say that because I always want their energy level way up. You’ve got to understand, regardless of what happens, the game continues. You have to try to keep an even keel, myself included, and focus on the next play.”
McDaniel said he was energized himself from the dunks after missing a couple earlier in the game.
“It was actually good because it boosted my confidence and my teammates,” McDaniel said. “We brought the energy.”
Hooks finished the run with a baseline drive and reverse layup and another layup off an inbounds pass from senior Caleb Israelite. Hooks had eight points in the fourth.
“He was a closer for us tonight, which is what we need from him,” Smith said of Hooks.
Added Hooks: “(My shot) felt good. My teammates found me when I was open.”
That layup seemed to be the backbreaker for the Wildcats, who head coach Adam Jones said had one of their best defensive performances of the season. Blue Springs pulled within nine after the run, but never got any closer. The Jaguars made their last eight free throws to seal the win.
“Tonight might have been one of the first times when we were down like that and we finally decided to fight back,” Jones said. “The kids defended their tails off to get back in the game. We had the ball when we were down by four and Kyle Bruce had a good look at a three in the corner, he just didn’t make it.
“We just couldn’t make a shot in the first half. That kind of backs you up, doesn’t it?”
While his team got the win, McDaniel was not completely satisfied.
“We could’ve done better. How much did they have? Forty-eight?” McDaniel asked. “They shouldn’t have had 48.”