No positives in Patriots' semifinal loss

By Michael Smith
Special to The Examiner

Truman boys basketball coach Rod Briggs did not like how his team looked in practices leading up to its semifinal game against Center in the Nelson Division of the William Jewell Holiday Classic.

That spilled over into Tuesday evening’s game. It was ugly for the Patriots on both sides of the floor, as they shot just 29 percent from the floor in a 62-51 loss at the Mabee Center.

“When you practice soft like we have, you’re going to have a game like this,” Briggs said. “You can’t practice soft and play hard in a game. We have really been struggling with practice intensity and motivation.”

Some of the Patriots’ top players, including seniors Najee Williams and Max Black, struggled. Williams had 12 points but made just 4 of 19 shots, including 0 for 7 from three. Black was 4 for 12 from the floor and scored 13 points.

“Your best players have to play up to their ability, and they didn’t tonight,” Briggs said.

Truman senior forward Runey Hernandez tried his best to keep his team afloat, shooting 6 for 12 from the field, including 4 for 7 from behind the arc for a game-high 18 points.

But Center, which shot nearly 49 percent from the floor, led for most of the contest.

Truman (5-2) made just 3 of 17 in the first quarter, yet trailed just 14-11 after one period. However, the Yellowjackets extended their lead to 26-18 at halftime, highlighted with an alley-oop dunk from Roman Smith off a pass from Jaylan Peeler. Hernandez scored five of Truman’s seven points in the period.

Center took its first double-digit lead early in the third with a driving layup from Philon Williams. Truman chipped away at the lead and eventually cut it to 31-28 on Najee Williams’ driving layup and a free throw on Truman’s following possession.

The Yellowjackets took a 38-31 lead into the fourth and dominated the quarter by making all five of its shots from the field and hitting 14 out of 23 free throws. Center’s lead ballooned to 52-34 after a 14-3 run that was aided by three baskets inside from Kortez Stevenson, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds. From there, the Patriots never got within single digits.

“I didn’t think we played hard. I didn’t think we played together as a team,” Briggs said. “You know, I don’t think we did the things that good teams do, at all. It was not a good experience. I can’t say anything positive.”

Truman plays Blue Springs South in the third-place game Wednesday afternoon.