With less than a minute remaining in a heart-stopping Class 5 sectional contest between Lee’s Summit North and Blue Springs South at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, the unusual happened.
Broncos scoring leader Javaunte Hawkins missed a free throw.
He hit the first attempt, to give the Broncos a 65-64 lead over the Jaguars, but missed the second – his first errant attempt all night.
That gave South the chance to claim some revenge for two regular-season losses to the Broncos. But a South turnover with just 20 seconds left led to two free throws by Hawkins’ best friend and backcourt mate, Mikel Henderson, who hit those attempts to make it 67-64.
After a Cade Berg layup, Henderson was fouled again, and again he hit both attempts to seal a 69-67 victory that sets the stage for a 6 p.m. Saturday Class 5 state quarterfinal matchup against William Chrisman at SEC Arena. The winner of that game heads to the state final four in Springfield.
“When I missed that free throw, I knew my guys would take care of me,” said Hawkins, who tied Henderson for scoring honors with 27 points apiece. “Me and Mikel, well, we think alike, we play a lot alike and we’re having so much fun this season.
“Even though we got off to a slow start tonight against a very good Blue Springs South team, we had confidence that we could come back, and we did.”
Henderson was a perfect 9 of 9 from the line in the fourth quarter and said he felt comfortable in the pressure cooker of a sectional game because of all the time he has spent in a gym shooting free throws.
“I want to be in that situation,” said Henderson, who teamed with Hawkins to score all 19 Broncos points in the fourth quarter (6 for Hawkins, 13 for Henderson). When Javaunte missed his second free throw, we were all kind of surprised because he never misses – especially in big games.
“But we got the turnover and then, it was my turn to go to the line and I just shot like I was in a big, empty gym, shooting free throws by myself. I don’t know how many I’ve shot over the years, but all the practice paid off tonight.”
The Jaguars, who finished 18-9, got off to a sizzling start against the 25-3 Broncos by taking an 18-6 lead at 2:22 of the first quarter.
“They’re good, really good, really intense and they work hard on defense,” said Hawkins, who did not score his first basket until 7:13 of the second period. “But we have been down before.
“There was no panic, we just got to work. We were confident we could come back.”
The Broncos went on a 15-1 run and used Devon Richardson’s layup at 3:48 of the second period to take a 21-19 lead. They led 28-27 at halftime, but the Jaguars used two late Caleb Israelite free throws to lead 51-50 going into the final, frantic quarter.
With Henderson and Hawkins scoring all 19 fourth-quarter points, the Broncos were able to pull off another memorable victory.
“I’ve said all season that Mikel is a big key to our success,” Hilbert said. “He complements Javaunte, who has been sick all week. Mikel was invaluable tonight, and Coach (Josh) Smith had a magical game plan tonight.
“We had to work for every point – and I mean, work hard. I have so much respect for him and his players. They made us work so hard to get this win.”
After a lengthy post-game meeting, Smith and his players emerged from the locker room.
“As a fan, it had to be a tremendous game to watch,” Smith said. “As a coach, I want to say how proud I am of my team. We got the early lead, and like they have done so many times this season, North came right back and made a game of it.
“They punched us in the mouth a few times, and we took it, and got up off the mat and came right back at them. There are a dozen or more big moments you could talk about from the game, but I just told my guys to walk out of here with their heads held high because they gave it everything they had – and then some.”
Sophomore forward Jaylon McDaniel, who finished with a double/double of 10 points and 11 rebounds, said the loss hurt.
“It hurts to lose,” McDaniel said. “But what really hurts is saying goodbye to all our senior leaders – the guys who showed me how to play the game. I’ll miss them so much, and all the underclassmen are going to do our best to make them proud of us next season.”
Israelite, a senior, finished with 18 points, and did his best to take the game into overtime as he was fouled with just three seconds left and the Broncos leading 69-66.
He hit his first free throw, then purposely missed his second, hoping a teammate could grab the rebound and put the ball back in the basket. But the ball bounced away and the Broncos made it 3-0 against the Jaguars this season.
“The best thing about this win – and this season – is that I still get to be around these guys,” the veteran Broncos coach said. “I love being around them, coaching them, and we’re all excited about Saturday night.”