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Defense fuels Wildcats' sixth straight win

By Bill Althaus
Blue Springs forward Ike Ezeogu (22) flies past Lee's Summit West's Mike McKnight for a slam dunk in Friday's game at West. Ezeogu totaled 13 points to help lead the Wildcats to a 57-47 conference win.

Blue Springs’ trademark stingy defense helped extend its winning streak on Friday night.

The Wildcats allowed Lee’s Summit West to score two baskets in the second quarter and that’s when the game turned in favor of the visitors in a 57-47 Suburban Big Eight Conference victory.

“When we play defense, that is when the offense starts going,” said 6-foot-5 junior Ike Ezeogu, who led the Wildcats with 13 points. “We are a really defensive team.”

The win was the sixth in a row for Blue Springs and is the longest win streak since nine in a row to open the 2014-15 season. The Wildcats had won five in a row in 2015-16 and 2016-17 as well, a mark match earlier this week.

Blue Springs (7-2, 3-1 Big Eight) had control most of the game but trailed 10-8 after the first quarter.

Blue Springs trailed for 1 minute, 2 seconds in the first quarter and then for 36 seconds in the second quarter. A steal and score by Ezeogu with 7:23 left in the second gave the Wildcats an 11-10 lead and they never trailed again.

That was part of a game-changing 11-0 run for Blue Springs.

Blue Springs' Braden Appelhans, right, drives to the basket past Lee's Summit West's Luke Jordan (3) and Ian McDonald in Friday's game at West. Appelhans scored 12 points to help lead the Wildcats to a 57-47 victory.

John Ammons and Kyle Bruce hit back-to-back 3-pointers after Ezeogu’s basket. Ammons’ second basket made it 19-10 and the Titans called a timeout.

Scoreless the first 5:10 of the second quarter, West (2-5, 0-3) scored twice after the timeout and trailed 21-14 at halftime.

The Titans pulled within five on the first basket of the third quarter, but it never got lower than two possessions the rest of the way. The lead snuck over 10 points for the first time in the third quarter, peaking at 12. Blue Springs led 36-26 going into the final quarter.

“On defense, we amped it up a little bit,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “We are trying to take on adversity and situations every day. The kids are getting tough and I think they like defending. I think they take pride in defending and I think that helps.”

Blue Springs junior guard Mike Harrison (11) drives to the hoop for a layup in the Wildcats' 57-47 win at Lee's Summit West Friday.

The Wildcats’ lead fluctuated between seven and 10 for most of the final period. A three-point play by Mike McKnight pulled the Titans within 50-43 with 2:02 left, but the home team was forced to foul.

Blue Springs responded by hitting 7 of 8 attempts over the final 1:50 – six of them by guard Kyle Bruce, who finished with 10 points.

“It was a very physical game and the officials let us play,” Jones said. “I think that favors us or at least what we are trying to convince our kids. We’ve got tough kids and we weathered it well. They had a great game plan – they wanted to come out and get physical with us. It ended up being a great conference game because both teams were getting after it.”

More than 60 percent of the Titans’ offense came from two players: McKnight and Colby Baggett, who scored 16 and 13 points, respectively.

Blue Springs had a balanced scoring attack, led by Ezeogu’s 13. Braden Applehans had 12 points, while Bruce and Eli Wingert each had 10.

“The thing I tell people, this group is very talented and are good basketball players, but they are such good kids with phenomenal families … it makes it fun,” Jones said. “Coming to practice and games is therapy for us. We love coaching them.”

The next crack at extending the win streak will come on Jan. 14 in the Kearney Bulldog Classic. Due to teams dropping out, the Wildcats got a first-round bye and will play the winner of Kansas City Southeast and Platte County (7-0), ranked No. 4 in Class 5 in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association poll.