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Trio gives Wildcats advantage over Jaguars

By Michael Smith
The Examiner
Blue Springs forward Ike Ezeogu (22) puts up a one-handed shot over Blue Springs South's Ty Mauck (11), Zaeon Bausby (25) and Devin Tomlinson in Friday's game at Blue Springs. Ezeogu scored 25 points to go with Braden Appelhans' 28 as the Wildcats routed the Jaguars 80-56.

Any time the Blue Springs boys basketball team steps on the hardwood, they are going to create matchup problems for most opposing defenses.

That’s because the Wildcats have a talented trio of stretch forwards who are 6-foot-5 or taller and are great at scoring inside and can step outside and knock down 3-pointers. Braden Appelhans, Ike Ezeogu and Eli Wingert combined for a whopping 73 points in an 80-56 Suburban Big Eight home victory over crosstown rival Blue Springs South Friday.

“It’s a really big advantage,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said of having three stretch forwards. “Any coach would love to dial up that height and length and their ability to score inside. Those guys are just as deadly on the defensive end.

“On both sides of the floor, everyone did a great job.”

The 6-6 Appelhans, one of the top shooters in the state, scored a game-high 28 points, 24 of which came from behind the arc. He made eight of Blue Springs’ 11 3-pointers, and made four in the fourth quarter.

“We have so much flexibility on offense,” Appelhans said. “When things aren’t working inside, we can go outside because we trust our perimeter shooting. We usually hit around 10 threes (per game).

“Tonight, we just established the post early, which led to outside shooting.”

Ezeogu dominated the paint, especially in the second quarter when he scored 12 of his 25 points. The junior said his best attributes are cutting and slashing to the basket, but he can also hit 3-pointers. He had two of them Friday.

“It’s good to have (three stretch forwards) because the other team doesn’t know what we’re going to do.” Ezeogu said. “They don’t know if we are going to drive or shoot. They know Braden is going to shoot because he’s a shooter.”

The 6-8 Wingert has a solid all-around offensive game. He shoots well from long range and mid-range, he can score inside and get putbacks. Against the Jaguars, he scored 20 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.

“No one in the state can match up with us because we have so much size,” Wingert said. “And we’ve got a great point guard like Kyle (Bruce), who can find us for shots.”

The Wildcats, who extended their winning streak against the Jaguars to four, made life difficult for a South defense that had to defend players who can score anywhere on the floor. Having that kind offensive firepower has given the Wildcats a ton of confidence whenever they face their rivals.

“We beat them last year, too,” Appelhans said. “It’s expected.”

South coach Josh Smith gave a bulk of the credit to the Wildcats for picking apart his defense. But Smith said he felt like his players didn’t do themselves any favors by how they played on both sides of the floor.

“They’re very potent offensively,” Smith said. “They have outstanding players and they made a lot of plays and shots tonight. Our defense wasn’t good enough.

“We’ve got to figure it out because we are going to see these guys again.”

Blue Springs (11-3, 5-2 Big Eight) led 16-12 at the end of the first quarter and went into halftime up 35-27 thanks to Ezeogu’s scoring outburst, which included a steal and a two-handed dunk on a fast break late in the period.

In the third, South senior Devin Tomlinson, who had a team-high 20 points, scored on the Jaguars’ first two possessions on driving layups to cut Blue Springs lead to 35-31. That’s as close as the Jaguars (8-7, 5-2) got as Blue Springs went on a 23-11 run, fueled by a combined 19 points from the trio as it pushed the lead to 58-43 going into the fourth.

Appelhans then got hot from outside in the fourth, as he made 4 of 5 shots from long range to help the Wildcats keep it out of reach. South didn’t get any closer than 17 points in the final period.

After moving to eight games above .500, Jones and his players said they felt like this could be a special season.

“Of course, we could have gone last year,” Ezeogu said of his team’s chances to make the state final four.

Added Wingert: “I feel like we can go all the way. Once we get our energy going, no one can stop us.”

For the Jaguars, Ty Mauck added 17 points and Sonny McCreary chipped in 11.