The Lee’s Summit North boys basketball team has been tested in the 2019 playoffs.
The Broncos defeated No. 4 state-ranked Rockhurst, a team that beat them twice in the regular season, 61-48 in the Class 5 District 13 championship. They escaped with a 69-67 over Suburban Big Six Conference rival Blue Springs South in sectionals. They then gutted out a 63-58 overtime win over William Chrisman in the quarterfinals.
So, it definitely hasn’t been an easy road for North to make it to its first Class 5 state final four since its one and only trip in 2011. But the Broncos (26-3), who are seeking the first boys basketball state title, will face their toughest challenge of the season when they meet No. 3-ranked Columbia Rock Bridge (23-3) at 5:15 p.m. today at John Q. Hammons Arena at Missouri State University in Springfield.
The Bruins have won 10 in a row and 22 of their 23 wins have been by double digits. Like North, which has 10 seniors, the Bruins are loaded with upperclassmen. In fact, all five of their starters will play their final two high school games this weekend.
Rock Bridge boasts three Division I recruits. Swingman Ja’Monta Black and guard Dajuan Harris have signed to play for Missouri State next year. Forward Isiaih Mosley had offers from six Division I schools, including Missouri, Mississippi State and Southern Methodist University, according to 247sports.com.
“He’s a special player,” North coach Mike Hilbert said of Mosley. “He’s a big, strong kid. And the Dejuan Harris kid is lightning quick and can handle the ball and create for his teammates.”
The Bruins also feature shooting guard Noah Patrick, a solid 3-point shooter, and forward Quinton Brown, a post player capable of pulling down a lot of rebounds, in the starting lineup.
“They’re pretty good. They are around our size, so it should be a good contest,” North senior guard Christian Carter said. “As long as we come out playing hard from the start, we should win. Defensively, we know what we need to do to stop them. We should be all right.”
Added senior forward Tommy Erwin: “They are very versatile. They can shoot and they can drive. We have players, too. Anything can happen this time of year. We’re not scared.”
The Bruins will give the Broncos defense its toughest test to date, but North has used a mixture of a 3-2 and 2-3 zones to find success in the postseason. The Broncos have surrendered just 56 points per game in the playoffs, but Hilbert said a key will be the transition defense.
“We have to get back on defense, so we don’t give up easy baskets,” Hilbert said. “We just have to line up and keep our zone in front of them, too. It’s going to take more than one guy. We are going to try to force them to be jump shooters, but they will make a bunch of those. When they miss their shot, hopefully we can get them boxed out.”
The Broncos offense, a strength during the regular season, is led by dynamic senior guards Javaunte Hawkins and Mikel Henderson, who combined to average more than 41 points per game. They will be challenged by a good Rock Bridge defense that has held opposing offenses to just 47.5 points per game in the postseason.
“They like to play man (defense) and they like to gamble – they are very aggressive,” North senior Elijah Smith said. “I know they like to trap, too, so we just have to pass the ball before they do.”
Added Hilbert: “They are long and quick enough where they just sit and guard and it’s really hard to penetrate. It’s almost like a zone at the 3-point line because they are so quick from side to side and they just keep you in front of them.
“Off a make, they will go 2-1-2, three-quarter court, which is challenging because typically, when you’ve got a two-guard front, the middle may be open, but they have a guy sitting right there. You have to pass the ball, find windows and ball fake. If you try to go over the top, they will just deflect it. They have three or four types of defenses we have to prepare for.”
Broncos senior guard Jack Gatti said the offense will need to get back to where it was in the regular season in order for the team to advance.
“We have to see the ball go through the hoop a little more than we have been,” he said. “The last couple of games we haven’t been shooting it as well as we had earlier on. But I think the trade-off has been playing harder defense, so we’ve been a little tired on the offensive end.”
Even with the big challenge, HIlbert said he feels good about his team.
“What we’ve got going on right now is bigger than this defense or that defense,” he said. “There’s some synergy, there’s some connection and there’s some unity.
“The other three schools that are at the final four are really talented, great basketball programs. It’s going to be a huge challenge, but a great opportunity for us.”
The winner meets Christian Brothers College (23-7) or Francis Howell (28-2) in Saturday’s 6:20 p.m. championship. The losers play for third place at 11 a.m.