COLUMBIA — Coach John Burns can heave a huge sigh of relief.
Hickman lost their final home game 77-71 against Ruskin. But that wasn’t the Kewpies biggest problem.
With 4:01 left in the first quarter, Hickman guard Lyle Harris drove hard up into multiple defenders. After being fouled hard, Harris tumbled through the air, landed hard on the floor and ended up lying on his side motionless.
“I was shocked more than anything because I didn’t know I was that close to the ground,” Harris said. “Did it look bad?”
It looked like a wide receiver had been hammered on a slant route across the middle of the field by a headhunting middle linebacker. Harris’ fall shook the upper row in the Hickman gym, and to no surprise, he looked shaken after the collision.
Multiple trips to the hallway with a trainer confirmed that Harris was fine. But the damage had already been done to the score.
“When we didn’t have him we were turning it over, had trouble scoring and played porous defense,” Burns said.
Hickman (16-8) started strong, beginning the game with an 8-0 run. When Harris left, the Kewpies turned the ball over consecutive possessions on traveling violations. The score was 14-14 when Harris returned, but the flow had been reversed in favor of Ruskin (10-10), Burns said.
“We had to play a different style,” Burns said. “We had to play catch-up, we had to take chances, and that’s not the way we play. When we do that we are in trouble.”
Even with Harris back, something was missing. His smooth shot clanked off the rim, his quick step was slow and lethargic and his normally keen court vision led to multiple turnovers.
“I played more passive, and as you could see, I slowed up,” Harris said. “I couldn’t attack as well, and I was playing a little bit afraid.”
With Harris missing shots, Hickman fell behind big. They were down by as many as 15 points only moments before halftime. Even a half-court 3-pointer by guard Jordan Stevens to end the half could not put a smile on Burns’ face.
It wasn’t until two minutes left in the third quarter that Harris finally scored on a layup.
“He means a lot to our team,” guard Marcus Whitt said. “If one of us gets hurt, it’s hurts all of us. But we have got to learn to play through it.”
By the fourth quarter, Harris solved his offensive woes. He scored a quick layup, disrupted a play and made a 3-pointer on the following play to pull the Kewpies within three points of Ruskin.
But Ruskin senior guard Kenyan Border stole Hickman’s Senior Night, scoring 23 points with numerous layups, helping the Eagles pull away in the fourth quarter.
Still, Burns said he does not think this game will hurt Hickman going into the district tournament.
“I’m not big into momentum,” Burns said. “You know every game is different, and you’ve just got to get ready to play every game.”