Blue Springs South boys basketball head coach Josh Smith didn’t mince words when he described his team’s play in the first half of Thursday’s Nelson Division first-round game against Center in the 40th annual William Jewell Holiday Classic.
“We didn’t make any shots and we didn’t play with any energy,” Smith said. “I thought our effort and energy in the first half was embarrassing to be honest with you.
“We can’t not show up for a half and expect to be successful.”
The Jaguars got off to a slow start, trailing the Yellowjackets 28-14 at halftime. They came storming back in the second half to make it a game, but Center held on for a 52-49 victory.
Center advanced and will play Staley in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. South will take on Fort Osage at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the consolation bracket.
South was cold from the field, shooting 5 of 27 (18.5 percent) in the first half). Not only that, but the Jaguars were outrebounded 28-11 (9-5 on the offensive boards). Center led 10-7 after the first period and outscored the Jaguars 14-5 in the second period, led by Keyren Spiller’s eight first-half points.
The Jaguars (3-5) began to apply a lot more pressure in the third period and it paid dividends. South junior forward Devin Tomlinson hit a trio of 3-pointers in the third period, which brought the Jaguars within single digits on a pair of occasions. But each time it seemed Center had a response, and the Yellowjackets went into the fourth up 42-33.
South kept chipping away as Tomlinson got a steal out of the zone press, which led to a fast-break layup from senior guard Johnny George. After Center’s Kortez Stevenson missed the front end of a one-and-one, Tomlinson got the rebound and found senior guard Jacob Dulay on the right wing for a 3-pointer to slice Center’s lead to 47-45.
With 11.7 seconds left, Center was up 51-49. Stevenson missed two free throws, opening the door for South, but Spiller got the offensive rebound and was fouled. With a chance to tie it with a three, Dulay missed one from behind the arc to end the game.
South helped force Center into 26 turnovers (13 in each half), but it wasn’t enough as it shot just 30.9 percent from the field compared to 47.6 percent for the Yellowjackets.
“That was a terrible game,” Center coach LeDale Wooten said. “We did not execute. We just played terrible. When we scouted them, they didn’t press at all, but we knew they were going to press out of halftime because they were down. We anticipated it. We just dropped the ball.”
Smith noted that not only did his team not shoot or rebound well, the Jaguars tried to make some plays one-on-one late in the game rather than passing the ball to the open man.
“We weren’t hard to guard at all, which is something we have talked about lately,” Smith said. “It’s really frustrating when we talk about it and it’s not put into practice on the floor.”
Spiller led Center with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Stevenson added 14 points.
Tomlinson had a team-high 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Jaguars (3-5), who have lost five straight following a 3-0 start. George added nine points while Khayden Hooks had eight.