SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It wasn’t the finish the Lee’s Summit North boys basketball team wanted, but the Broncos still ended their season in a special way.
After shooting just 27.8 percent in a 72-59 semifinal loss against Columbia Rock Bridge on Friday, North picked up the scoring, shooting 42.1 percent from the floor and had two players score more than 20 points in a 79-71 win over Francis Howell in the Class 5 third-place game Saturday at John Q. Hammons Arena on the campus of Missouri State University.
‘What we experienced the last 10 months – it started back in June of 2018 – it’s been nothing but joy,” North coach Mike Hilbert said of the season. “To go out with a win and a trophy, the bus ride back is going to be a party, baby!”
Senior guard Javaunte Hawkins was the first one on the team to get to hold the third-place plaque as he examined it from front to back. It was a fitting moment for the sharpshooter.
Hawkins not only led the team with 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting, he broke Jibran Kelley’s school records for career points (1,653, beating Kelley’s 1,633) and single-season points (788 to 494).
“(Hilbert) told me about it yesterday, but if you ask anybody, I don’t really care about the personal accolades,” said Hawkins, who broke the record on a 3-pointer late in the first period Saturday. “We came in this year wanting to change the culture of our program. The thing we had been lacking since the last four to five years that I have been here has been just playing together.”
After the game, the Broncos went into the stands and hugged family members and fans. Although, the season didn’t end with a state title, it still ended up being an incredible season for North, which finished 27-4.
“It was quite a journey playing with different people,” said senior forward Elijah Smith, a transfer from Center who had a team-high 11 rebounds. “It didn’t really go the way we wanted, but it was special.”
Like Smith, senior guard Jack Gatti enjoyed the season and the experience of playing on the big stage.
“It was awesome. It was really cool to be with the guys,” he said. “Like Javaunte said, we’re a family. We were able to work together, and that’s why we are here.”
Things didn’t look good for the Broncos in the first half. They shot just 35.5 percent from the field, including 23.1 percent from the 3-point line and 25 percent from the free throw line. It appeared the offensive struggles it had in the semifinals would carry over, as it trailed 16-15 at the end of the first quarter and 34-27 at halftime.
During the first half, the Vikings (26-4) outrebounded the Broncos 26-11, including an 8-5 edge on the offensive boards. North had trouble guarding Howell’s 6-foot-4 forward Matt Schark, who had 13 points and nine rebounds in the half.
The Broncos made adjustments in the second half. They switched from a zone to a man-to-man defense, and that sparked an 11-1 spurt to take a 38-35 edge. Junior guard Koby Franklin, who had been used sparingly off the bench this season, drained a 3-pointer to put the Broncos ahead.
“It was a pretty cool experience, but I am used to it because of AAU ball,” Franklin said of playing in the state tournament. “I am good at handling pressure like that. It was a good experience.”
Hawkins caught fire as he put in 11 third-quarter points, nine on 3-pointers. One of his treys came when he deked a Viking defender with a lightning-quick crossover, which freed him up for a shot at the top of the key. He also hit another one just before the buzzer to help put North up 53-45 going into the final period.
“We went back to our man-to-man (defense) and got them sped up and forced some turnovers,” Hilbert said. “We created an open-court situation, Javaunte hit some shots and Mikel (Henderson) did it from the free throw line. Everyone contributed.”
The Vikings slowly chipped away at the lead in the fourth and cut North’s lead to 66-63 when Matthew Simmons rifled a pass to Schark, who scored from the low block. But Hawkins’ backcourt mate, Henderson, who finished with 22 points, helped the Broncos seal the win by making all 12 of his free throws in the final period. During that time, Henderson put on a dribbling exhibition, weaving through two to four defenders at a time to help the Broncos milk the clock.
“I’ve been a point guard since I started playing basketball,” Henderson said. “My teammates trust me in that situation. I was able to keep control of the ball and not turn it over.”
After finishing the season with the best record in program history and earning a plaque, how would they celebrate?
“You know, I was thinking Subway in Bolivar,” Hilbert said, as his players shook their heads, while a few chuckles trickled in. “I will have to talk to them and see where we want to go.”