Truman Patriots overcome slow start, roll into district title game

By Michael Smith
The Examiner

The Truman boys basketball team had an uncharacteristic start to the first half of its Class 6 District 15 semifinal against North Kansas City.

The Patriots struggled offensively, shooting just 8 of 24 from the field and their leading scorer, senior guard Najee Williams, was in foul trouble and only had four points in the first 16 minutes.

Luckily for Truman, Max Black was able to carry the load offensively in the first half, hitting four 3-pointers for 12 of his 14 points. That helped the host Patriots take a 25-19 lead into the locker room before their offense picked it up in the second half to secure a 69-53 victory Tuesday.

“We came out really slow and I was really feeling it in the first half,” Black said. “I was telling my teammates to get me the ball and they got me some good shots. I am a great shooter so I am going to hit those.

“Everyone knows their part and my part was to help my team in the first half when they needed me.”

Second-seeded Truman (19-6) advanced to Friday’s 7 p.m. district championship at top-seeded Liberty (22-3), which topped crosstown rival Liberty North 54-39 for its 10th straight win.

Like Truman, Northtown struggled to score in the first half as well. The Hornets took an early 4-2 lead but Black hit a 3-pointer with a hand in his face from the top key to make it 5-4, a lead Truman would never relinquish.

“Our focus was in all the wrong places in the first half,” Truman coach Rod Briggs said. “It’s kind of like that song ‘All the Wrong Places.’ I felt like our focus was wrong, but we had a spurt at the end of the half. That was key to get a little separation.”

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The Patriots led 13-8 at the end of the first quarter and senior forward Runey Hernandez, who finished with 15 points, drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to help his team take the six-point lead into halftime.

“The nerves got the best of us in the first half,” Hernandez said. “In the second half, we did what we do best.”

Added Black: “We went into the locker room at halftime and had a talk. We realized this could be it. We just came out in the second half like we had nothing to lose.”

After struggling in the first half, Williams put on a show. He scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, including three highlight-reel dunks. One came on an alley-oop from Black. Williams sprinted down the baseline and threw down a thunderous slam. Another one was even more emphatic.

After Black missed a layup, Williams leaped behind a Northdown defender and slammed one down above his head on the rebound without committing a foul.

“He’s the best dunker in Kansas City,” Black said of Williams, who had advanced to the quarterfinals of the American Family Dream Fearlessly Slam Dunk Contest (online voting ended Tuesday).

Truman senior guard Quincy Scott scored on a three-point play and Maddux Bristow made a driving layup from the baseline to ignite a 15-6 run. Bristow capped it, making it 40-25 after connecting on a pair of free throws.

“Maddux is a glue guy for us,” Briggs said. “He understands his role and he’s really a high IQ guy. I can trust him to know every position on the floor.”

Truman went into the fourth up 46-30 and never looked back as Northtown didn’t get any closer than 14. Truman led by as many as 22.

The Patriots now turn their attention to the Blue Jays, a team ranked No. 9 in the state in the Missouri High School Basketball Coaches Association Class 6 poll.

“I think they are the best team in Kansas City right now,” Briggs said. “They are a challenge because they shoot it so well. They really spread you out. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. We are going to have to be very disciplined and do things way better than we have lately.”