Two lone spotlights spun around the dark gym. A video began, and a player on the home team smacked a basketball between his hands and yelled, “Let’s go!” Highlights of the team flashed across the screen.
The video, which the Rock Bridge boys basketball team debuted last night before taking on Hickman, was a fairly good (if not prolonged) imitation of the film that plays before each Missouri men’s basketball game. Its purpose: to enthuse the Rock Bridge players for the rivalry game.
“Coach (Jim) Scanlon approved it, so we were ready for it,” forward Karon Hayes said. “It got us even more hyper, even though we watched it about 20 times last night.”
Rock Bridge won 64-43, but the video didn’t exactly do its job at first. Hickman led at the end of the first quarter and trailed by two at halftime. Then Rock Bridge rediscovered the edge that has accounted for 17 straight wins over its rival.
“To me, (the edge) is we just want it more than they do,” said Rock Bridge guard Matt Kelly, who led the Bruins with 16 points. “They’ve always been a pretty good first quarter team and not a good finishing team. The bottom line to me was our toughness.”
Hickman picked up 14 first-half fouls, controlling momentum and trailing 25-23 at the break. But after tying the game in the opening seconds of the third quarter, Jordan Stevens, leading all scorers with 13, picked up his third foul. He scored just one more basket and struggled to guard Kelly while trying to avoid another foul. Kelly scored all eight of his second-half points after Stevens' third personal.
“It’s hard to play defense as tough as you want to when you’re thinking about getting your next foul,” Hickman Marcus Whitt said. “Sometimes you have to play through that, and I didn’t feel like we did.
“We’re a better team than we played today. It’s just that we are fundamentally weak right now. Mentally, we’re not willing to come together as a team.”
Hickman led 30-29 before Kelly and teammate Travis Jorgenson spurred a 15-2 run. Jorgenson, also frustrated by Stevens' defense in the first half, started to find open shots and scored seven points in the last 2:25 of the third quarter.
Hickman looked listless after the Bruin run, and the elusive win that seemed so possible for much of the game slipped away.
“It felt like we played with the energy we needed to, both on the defensive and offensive end,” Hickman coach David Johnson said. “But in the third quarter we missed some easy layups and some free throws, and we broke down defensively.”
Johnson has watched the rivalry turn one-sided over the last seven years and has wondered like others when Hickman, no less talented than Rock Bridge, will break the streak. Having taken over the program this year, he has emphasized that it will require patience.
“We know it’s coming, we know it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s going to take time developing the program. We got to get consistency and players to really believe in what’s going on.”