COLUMBIA — After suffering a 60-50 defeat at home to rival Rock Bridge and hearing the humiliating jeers of "we own this town!" from the Bruins' student section, the Hickman boys basketball team was surprisingly upbeat.
"It kind of sucks that we lost our last home game against Rock Bridge," senior guard Marcus Whitt said. "We're looking at the bigger picture right now. I'm excited for us down the road."
Kewpies coach David Johnson said though his squad is now 1-5, he is still encouraged with how the team has played thus far.
"We played a pretty tough schedule, and we've been in every game," he said. "And we just haven't found a way to finish games out. Once that starts to happen, I think they're going to start seeing the results that we want to see."
Both Whitt and Johnson are looking forward to Hickman's ranks swelling next semester as three players described as "scrappy" become eligible to play for the Kewpies.
Empowered by a raucous crowd and rowdy home student section called the Dog Pound, the Kewpies certainly started strong against Rock Bridge, jumping ahead of the Bruins 18-13 in the first quarter.
The atmosphere inside of Hickman's gym was almost combustible. Fans for both sides crammed into the bleachers, and the place seemed ready to burst by the start of the second half of the early junior varsity game. There was security to direct people to the gym. The game's announcer even warned the crowd multiple times that attendants must be able to sit on the bleachers before standing or they would lose their seats.
"It certainly felt natural being out there, seeing the boys being excited about playing and fired up," Johnson said, who made his return to the rivalry after leaving Hickman in the 1990s. "I felt good about being on the floor, coaching."
But after the first quarter, Hickman's offense slowed, and the Bruins never trailed again after some sharp shooting gave them the 36-25 halftime lead.
Whitt was the big bright spot for the Kewpies, posting a game-high 15 points. The Kewpies's captain played like the leader he is and carried the team offensively. He seemed to manufacture shots and steals by hustle and just sheer will.
"This is everything to me," Whitt said. "This is what I live for — Rock Bridge, Hickman. This is one of the most biggest games to me. It sucks to lose it. My goal was to go out there and lead this team to victory, and we came up short, and I'm disappointed in that."
Johnson said he thinks Whitt makes a good role model for his fellow teammates.
"Marcus got a lot of heart," Johnson said. "He plays with so much passion, so much effort. He gives it everything he's got. I told our guys 'we got to play with that kind of desperation all the time.'"