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Patriots struggle but bounce back

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner
Truman senior Runey Hernandez (23) eludes Oak Park defender Eric Wachira (12) for a basket in Monday's pool play game in the North Kansas City Invitational. Hernandez scored 15 points on his 18th birthday to help the Patriots to a 48-33 win.

The birthday boy was the star of the game for Truman.

Senior forward Runey Hernandez scored 15 points to help the Patriots beat Oak Park 48-33 in the opening round of the 71st annual North Kansas City Invitational Monday.

The Patriots relied heavily on Hernandez, who turned 18, and classmate Najee Williams, who finished with 13 points, to beat the Northmen in a pool play contest.

Truman (10-3) bounced back from a tough loss last week against Grandview to get back in the win column but it wasn’t pretty. Both teams struggled shooting the ball and often there were scoreless stretches for both teams.

The Patriots did just enough with some fast starts in the second and fourth quarters, along with a big run in the third, to help fend off the Northmen (6-6). This was the seventh time since 2009 the two teams met in the NKC Invitational and Truman has won all seven of those.

Truman senior Najee Williams (0) gets a high-five from teammate Runey Hernandez (23) after scoring a bucket in Monday's game against Oak Park in the North Kansas City Invitational. Hernandez and Williams combined for 28 points to lead the Patriots to a 48-33 win.

This victory was far different than last year’s 97-41 blowout win for the Patriots, but there were still some aspects of dominance.

“We didn’t want to play, it felt like at least, but we got the win and that is all that matters at the end of the day,” Hernandez said. “I think everybody was still tired from the last game and was dwelling on it. I wouldn’t say this was a tough game physically, just more mentally.”

Truman senior Najee Williams (0) converts an alley-oop pass intp a layup in the Patriots' 48-33 win over Oak Park in the North Kansas City Invitational Monday.

Truman held a 10-6 lead after the first quarter, though Oak Park missed four shots inside the paint in the final 2 minutes that could’ve made it closer.

Truman opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run to build a nine-point lead. Hernandez hit a 3-pointer. After a basket by Oak Park’s Eric Wachira, Truman’s Max Black had a layup and then Williams had a steal and two-handed dunk to make it 17-8.

Truman's Max Black (4) shoots over Oak Park's Winston Allen (3) in their game in the North Kansas City Invitational Monday. Truman claimed a 48-33 win in the pool play matchup.

Black hit a 3-pointer that made it 20-11, but then some of the struggles followed, as Truman scored only one basket the final four minutes. Oak Park pulled within 22-15 at the break.

“It was one of those games that looked like a Monday afternoon game with not a lot of emotion or intensity,” Truman coach Rod Briggs said. “Both teams seemed a little disinterested at times. We played well enough to keep extending that lead and finish it off.”

Oak Park pulled within 26-19 after back-to-back baskets by Winston Allen early in the third quarter, but Truman started to pull away again. Hernandez started a 9-0 run on an assist from his brother, Griffen. Williams had a three-point play before Quincy Potts scored on his first trip down the court, grabbing an offensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer.

Truman senior Runey Hernandez (23) glides past Oak Park defender Cornelius Jones (2) for a reverse layup in Monday's pool play game in the North Kansas City Invitational. Hernandez scored 15 points on his 18th birthday to help the Patriots to a 48-33 win.

Runey Hernandez scored again to make it 35-19, firmly putting the Patriots in command.

The lead grew to 20 points early in the fourth quarter on the final basket for Hernandez, which made it 43-23. The Northmen outscored the Patriots over the final 4 ½ minutes.

“We missed some early layups and our shooters didn’t make shots,” Oak Park coach Brennan Scanlon said. “It was not a good night, but we played good on defense. It was single digits most of the game but they made a big run. We just have just got to figure out how to score, but some of it was their defense. Shots weren’t going in the basket and you have nights like that.”

Truman is idle until playing Rockhurst at 5 p.m. Thursday in the final pool play game. Then depending on the outcome, the Patriots will play for either third or first place Friday. The other pool features Ray-Pec, North Kansas City and St. Pius X.

Truman senior Najee Williams (0) goes up for a shot against Oak Park's Ethan Willmann in the Patriots' 48-33 win over Oak Park in the North Kansas City Invitational Monday.