As Oak Grove boys basketball coach Tyler Hames pulled his seniors off the floor for the last time Friday night, he chose to dwell on the positive.
Not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re on the wrong end of a running-clock fourth quarter.
Raytown South made quick work of the Panthers in the Class 4 District 14 final at Kearney High School. Ray-South was too quick and too hot from 3-point range and the Panthers couldn’t make a game of it in a 76-39 drubbing that brought their 20-6 season to an end.
“This has been an amazing group at Oak Grove,” Hames said. “We won 20 games for the first time in my (nine-year Oak Grove) career, we finished second in the district and second in the conference to some really good teams. There are so many great memories and these seniors left a great legacy.”
The last game for those four seniors – Trey Bryant, T.J. Jackson Gavin Richardson and Thomas Boyd – won’t be the fondest memory of their final season. Ray-South (19-8) made sure of that with a withering full-court press that produced 19 Panther turnovers. Most of those turnovers led to transition baskets, and most of those were 3-pointers.
Ray-South made 14 3-pointers on 26 attempts – 11 of them in the first half.
“We ran into a buzzsaw tonight, honestly,” Hames said. “Their defense tonight was their offense, and their ability to turn us over multiple times and get out in their transition was the difference.”
Ray-South wasted no time pressing and putting up threes. Cardinals guard Ray McCann hit three treys and 11 points in the first quarter while Oak Grove coughed up the ball eight times. Oak Grove trailed 24-10 after the first quarter and 49-23 by halftime after Ray-South opened the second quarter with a 20-7 run.
Cann finished with four 3-pointers and 17 points, and he was one of four Cardinals hitting from outside. Guard Dezmond McKinney had two threes among his game-high 20 points, Kobe Campbell and reserve forward Armoni Williams also contributed two treys apiece.
The 3-pointers and pressure were just what Ray-South coach Aaron Ihm wanted to see, because he didn’t want the Cardinals to get into a half-court battle with the 6-foot-5 Bryant and the physical Panthers.
“We have some guys who can extend with shots,” said Ihm, who is trying to lead Ray-South to a return trip to the Class 4 final four and a fifth state championship for the storied program. “When they’re making from that far you have to really choose. If you come out and guard us we can go by you, if you stay back we’re going to hit. It’s kind of the perfect storm.”
Oak Grove never came closer than 22 points in the second half as Ray-South continued its 3-point barrage. The Cardinals led by as many as 32 as the clock ran in the fourth quarter.
The clock ran out for Bryant, who extended Oak Grove’s season with a buzzer-beat against Kearney in the semifinals the night before. He went to the bench with 10 points, second to junior Brenden Marsh’s team-best 12 points.
Walking off the court in the closing seconds of a blowout was tough, but Bryant still found solace in what the Panthers accomplished this season.
“We just love the game of basketball and we were just thankful for the opportunity Coach Hames gave us,” Bryant said. “For me it was just a feeling of gratefulness and thankfulness.”