The basketball season is still very young, so there are still some firsts ahead for Blue Springs. Friday night, for instance, marked the first time the Wildcats got frazzled.
Facing a tall, athletic and quick Fort Smith (Ark.) Northside team, Blue Springs hung tough in the first half but couldn’t overcome a two-point third quarter in a 60-55 loss in the semifinals of the Blue Springs School District Tournament at Blue Springs.
“In four games this was the first night we were kind of back on our heels a little bit,” Blue Springs coach Adams Jones said. “And for multiple minutes at a time.”
Northside (4-4) put Blue Springs (3-1) on its heels with a quick, trapping defense and the presence of 6-foot-10 senior Jaylin Williams under the basket. Williams, an Arkansas commit who averages about 20 points a game, scored 26 points and showed his range with a couple of 3-pointers.
Blue Springs, meanwhile, shot 19 of 51 from the field, including 5 of 19 from 3-point range. The Wildcats also turned the ball over 19 times.
“We weren’t running the offense very well,” Jones said. “We had some good looks, but we didn’t shoot the ball very well. And then defensively we gave them a lot of extra opportunities not boxing out.”
Blue Springs led 15-10 after the first quarter and didn’t trail until a putback by Williams put Northside up 18-17 midway through the second quarter. Northside, the defending Arkansas Class 6A state champion, had a 23-21 lead when the Wildcats regained the lead with an 11-0 run. Senior guard Cooper Willich started the spurt with a three-pointer, and he finished it with an and-one off a steal and layup and two more free throws.
Blue Springs led 33-29 at the half after Braden Appelhans, who led the Wildcats with 23 points, scored with 1:19 left in the quarter.
It would be another seven minutes before the Wildcats scored again.
“It was more us hurting ourselves than anything else,” said Willich, who scored 13 points before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. “They took us out of some things but we’ve just got to be able to get open.”
Blue Springs missed 12 shots in the third period and committed six of its 19 turnovers. Northside only scored eight points, four of them on Williams tip-ins, but the Wildcats had nothing until Ikenna Ezeogu tipped one in with 50 seconds left. Northside only led 37-35, but the Grizzlies never relinquished the lead.
Northside stretched its lead to seven before a three by Appelhans cut it to 42-48 with 56 seconds left. But the Grizzlies hit six of eight free throws down the stretch to pull away.
“That kind of shifted the momentum,” Jones said of the third quarter. “That was the first time in four games we haven’t been in the lead. We’re growing; we’re trying to figure out how we can still be us when we’re down a couple of possessions.”
Blue Springs will face crosstown rival Blue Springs South, a 44-43 loser to Rockhurst, for third place today at 4:15 p.m. Rockhurst and Northside will meet for the title at 6 p.m.