Some basketball coaches like to ease their teams into the long grind of the season. Blue Springs boys coach Adam Jones isn’t one of them.
That explains why the Wildcats found themselves at Lee’s Summit West Monday night, opening both their season and Suburban Big Six play on the road. He wants his team tested and toughened early, and the Wildcats’ hard-fought 81-76 victory certainly fit the bill.
“We had a year about four or five years ago where I thought our schedule didn’t do a good job of prepping us for our conference,” Jone said. “So we’ve really front-loaded it the last three years.”
Right off the bat, Jones got to see how the Wildcats would handle quickness and pressure from Lee’s Summit West, which piled up points in transition and off turnovers and befuddled the Wildcats with a fourth-quarter press.
And Jones also got to see his team counter that with pinpoint shooting, especially from the outside and 3-point range. Eli Wingert and Braden Applehans scored 21 points apiece as four Wildcats reached double figures.
“We’ve got some guys that can score,” Jones said. “Offensively, I think we’re going to have some different weapons each night.”
Lee’s Summit West has some weapons, too. The Titans also had four double-digit scorers, led by Mike McKnight’s 20 points. But in the end, the Wildcats’ shooting proved superior to the Titans’ pressure.
“We shot it well, especially there in the third quarter,” Jones said. “I thought we defended OK, but there were just a lot of easy baskets we were giving up.”
Lee’s Summit West led 37-36 after a back-and-forth first half and pushed its lead to 45-39 with a turnover-fueled 6-0 run to start the third quarter. Josh Butler, who scored 18 points, had the first basket; Colby Baggett (14 points) and McKnight followed with buckets off steals.
Blue Springs responded with a 17-2 run that included two threes from Appelhans, a three from Kyle Bruce and a stuff from Wingert. When Ikenna Ezeogu scored a putback midway through the quarter, Blue Springs had a 56-47 lead it would never relinquish.
“Coaches said make three or four stops and we’ll go on a run,” Appelhans said. “And that’s what happened. “When we got stops we just got out, and Cooper (Willich) and Kyle found me in the corner and I just hit my shots tonight.”
But Lee’s Summit West didn’t go away quietly. The Titans cut the lead to 60-54 going into the fourth quarter and made things interesting with a full-court press. That helped spark an 8-0 run, and the Titans pulled within 65-63 on a drive from McKnight with 4 minutes left.
Appelhans responded with another three, and the Titans never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
“I think it got us back on our heels a little bit,” Jones said of the Titans’ press. “Our eyes got big and it got tight there late.”
Ezeogu finished with 17 points, and Bruce scored seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter for Blue Springs. Wingert scored 15 of his points in the first quarter on 6-of-6 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
Blue Springs won’t get to enjoy this victory for long. On Friday night, the Wildcats play host to three-time Kansas Class 6A state champion Blue Valley Northwest.
Just part of Jones’ plan.
“We’ve got some tough games in front of us,” Jones said. “But I think it really does a better job of preparing us down the stretch.”