Blue Springs unveiled a new look out of necessity Thursday night. If Ikenna Ezeogu’s performance is any indication, the Wildcats should be just fine.
With forward Eli Wingert sitting on the bench with his arm in a sling, Ezegou helped pick up the slack with an at-times electrifying 27-point effort that helped Blue Springs roll to an 81-53 victory over Jefferson City in the opening round of the Blue Springs School District Tournament.
Ezegou, a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward, doesn’t have the 3-point touch of the 6-8 Wingert, but he certainly has the presence underneath the basket. He can fill the lane well, too, and soar for slams.
It was the kind of game Blue Springs (3-0) may need from Ezeogu for a while. Wingert, the expected focal point of the Wildcats’ offense, dislocated his shoulder in last Friday’s win over Blue Valley Northwest. It’s uncertain yet how long he’ll be out, but Blue Springs coach Adam Jones wasn’t expecting Wingert back anytime soon.
“I really wish (Wingert) was out there with us,” Jones said. “But Eli was the first guy off the bench cheering for those guys. Our guys responded. I think they played a little bit different style because he’s not on the floor. There’s been a different energy without him. Our guys are kind of picking up the slack.”
Ezeogu did his part. He had 12 points by halftime, which saw the Wildcats comfortably up 40-22. He opened the third quarter with a slam off a perfect feed from junior guard Xavier Loyd and started the fourth jamming home a lob from Kyle Bruce.
“My point guards threw me good passes,” Ezeogu said. “Scoring the ball inside was the easiest thing for us.”
For Jones, who recorded his 100th victory as the Wildcats’ head coach Thursday, Ezeogu’s game – on both ends of the floor – came as no surprise.
“We just need Ike to be Ike” Jones said. “We expected this coming into the season. Without Eli, we don’t have that big, long rim protector that we’ve had but we still have some good athletes who can stop the ball.”
Blue Springs got plenty of stops with turnovers that turned into transition baskets. The Wildcats took control with a 17-2 run in the first quarter, scoring three baskets in transition during the stretch.
Jefferson City (2-1) closed within nine midway through the second quarter, but the Wildcats ended the period with a 13-4 run. Blue Springs pushed its lead to 54-35 after a sloppy third quarter and led by as many as 30 in the final period.
Braden Appelhans, Blue Springs’ other big man, pumped in 18 points for the Wildcats with two 3-pointers. Isaac Harkness also reached double figures with 12 points.
Blue Springs will face Fort Smith (Ark.) Northside at 7 p.m. tonight in the semifinals. Northside, the Arkansas Class 6A state champion last season, routed Lincoln Prep 73-37 Thursday.
It will be another game in which Wingert’s absence will be felt.
“He’s a big part of our team,” Ezegou said. “I hope we get him back soon.”