If there has been one consistent Achilles’ heel for the William Chrisman basketball team this season, it's been holding onto leads late in games.
That led to a handful of losses for the Bears during the regular season.
That nearly happened again in the Class 5 sectional round against Park Hill South.
Chrisman was facing adversity late as two of its starters – Isaiah Jackson and Dawson Herl – fouled out. Park Hill South gave the Bears all they could handle, but a pair of clutch steals from juniors Zachariah Rowe and Marcus Wigfall, along with a stellar game from senior Kelvyn Mason helped them come away with a thrilling 55-51 overtime victory Wednesday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“It wasn’t pretty – a lot of our wins aren’t,” Chrisman coach Jake Kates said. “Isaiah and Dawson were out, but it was next man up. They practiced that way, and I love the fact (that) we won the game on defense. There’s eight teams left in the state and we are one of them.
“We held on, but that’s all we needed to do.”
The Bears (20-8) will face Lee’s Summit North (25-3), which defeated Blue Springs South 69-67 in the other sectional game, in the state quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
After the final buzzer sounded, seniors Jalen Moore and Caysen Woods met with a jumping chest bump. Wigfall and Coach Jake Kates shared a hug. Then after both teams shook hands, the Chrisman players gave their fans in the front row high-fives before heading to the locker room.
That celebration couldn’t have happened without an outstanding defensive performance from the Bears, who held a talented Park Hill South team to 37.5-percent shooting from the field. The Chrisman defense especially came up huge in overtime as the teams went in tied at 46.
Rowe’s hustle rebound off a Panther miss led to a fast-break basket from Mason, who was wide open on the other side of the court. That was the start of a 6-0 run that made it 52-46. However, the Panthers got two offensive rebounds off missed free throws and that led to a 5-0 spurt, highlighted by a putback layup from South star guard Lamel Robinson, who finished with a team-high 18 points.
Robinson later made a free throw to cut it to 52-51 with less than 40 seconds left. On the ensuing inbound play, Mason’s errant pass led to a steal for Malcolm Williams, setting up the Panthers for a potential winning shot.
Rowe, however, made the play of the game arguably. Williams tried to drive along the sideline but the Chrisman junior stripped him. Williams fouled him and had to sit with his fifth foul. Rowe sank both free throws to make it 54-51.
“Our main focus was our defense,” Rowe said. “We stepped it up on that end, and that’s what caused the outcome.”
Wigfall then swiped the ball from Dawson Owen’s grasp, leading to a foul with 2.6 seconds left. Wigfall hit one of his two free throws to set the final score and send Chrisman to the quarterfinals.
“We’ve been in similar situations before which resulted in losses,” Wigfall said. “But we just kept battling and kept our faith in the game. It was a sigh of relief (after I got the steal), but I knew I still had to make the free throw.”
During regulation, Mason scored 13 points in the first half to help Chrisman take a 15-10 first-quarter lead. Park HIll South cut it to 28-26 going into halftime.
“It’s up there (among my best games),” said Mason, who had a game-high 21 points. “There’s still room for improvement.”
The Bears never trailed, but the Panthers tied it at 28 early in the third quarter. Chrisman then went on a 11-2 run, and a buzzer-beating tip-in from Tony Hilton allowed the Bears to take a 43-37 advantage into the fourth.
Chrisman led by as many as seven in the fourth, but South slowly chipped away until guard DesJuan Williams tied it 46-46 with a conventional three-point play. Both teams didn’t score in the final 1:45 of regulation and the game went into overtime. But the Bears held on through adversity.
“If you told me when I took this job that we’d be in the quarterfinals in two years, I’d say it would take a lot of hard work,” Kates said.
Added Wigfall: “We hadn’t had a big culture of winning here before, but I am glad we’ve been able to change that.”