The little dustup midway through the fourth quarter didn’t cost Grain Valley the game. It just made the final period all that wilder and woolier.
The pushing and shoving and long pause to figure out what happened came after North Kansas City regained the lead, and Grain Valley never saw it again in a 54-52 loss Friday night at Northtown.
Northtown (7-4) had just gone up 41-38 after an 8-0 run when the Eagles’ A.J. Salisbury landed on a NKC player. Northtown’s Athuai Ding took exception, as did Grain Valley’s Gavin Oyler. Players started jawing, prompting Clay County sheriffs to take the floor and separate the two teams.
After a long huddle, the officials called technical fouls on Ding and Oyler and another foul on Salisbury. The fouls offset, and the Hornets missed the front end of a one-and-one.
So no harm – except perhaps for the time it took to sort everything out.
“It’s not the difference in the game by any means, but it is odd to have a stoppage like that in the middle of crunch time,” Grain Valley coach Andy Herbert said. “It’s one of those things where if you just continue to play and don’t react, you end up on the better end.”
Grain Valley (8-3) had plenty of chances afterward, but missed rebounds, turnovers and Northtown’s trapping defense took their toll. But the Eagles still closed within 49-48 on a 3-pointer by Caden Matlon with 1 minute, 9 seconds left. Another three from Josh Kilpatrick made it 53-51 with 1.5 seconds left and set up a wild finish.
After North Kansas City’s Malik Johnson made one of two free throws with .9 of a second left, Matlon launched a desperation half-court heave but was fouled by Ding just before the buzzer. Matlon made the first shot and missed the other two, but the Eagles got the ball back with .2 of a second left. They couldn’t get off a shot.
“We competed our tails off,” Herbert said. “We needed a game like that where we competed for 32 minutes when the deck early on was stacked against us.”
In a game pushed ahead two hours to avoid the expected wintry weather, Grain Valley found itself in an early 14-2 hole after Northtown came out firing.
When Matlon and Kilpatrick started firing, Grain Valley closed that gap and then some.
Finding backdoor cuts and 3-pointers, Kilpatrick (20 points) and Matlon (18 points) scored all the points in a 14-0 run over the second and third quarters. Kilpatrick ended the second quarter ended with a three that brought Grain Valley within 21-20; he began the third with two inside baskets and gave the Eagles their first lead.
“Those two are the ones who make us go,” Herbert said. “Once we get into a rhythm and start moving, it allows them to do what they do best.”
Northtown went almost eight minutes without a basket until sharpshooting D’Anthony Pennington’s 3-pointer put the Hornets back up 29-28. Grain Valley went back up 35-33 at the end of the third quarter and led 38-33 before the Hornets went up for good.
Pennington led Northtown with 18 points. Ding had 11 points and Mo Abdelnabi also reached double figures with 10.