COLUMBIA — The various stages of Hickman’s game against Ozark on Saturday all looked familiar to David Johnson. Scarily familiar – like a recurring nightmare.
Hickman falling behind amid a slew of early fouls? Check. An apparent turning of the tables? Check. An anticlimactic, disappointing finish? Check.
Johnson, Hickman’s head coach, sat alone in the Columbia College locker room long after the game finished, wondering if and when something would give for the Kewpies.
It certainly did not this week. After losing to Jefferson City on Tuesday and Liberty on Wednesday, Hickman let a second-half comeback go for naught in a 90-68 loss to Ozark.
“It’s like we tried to take a deep breath again and just stopped playing half-court defense,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of typified our season, just missing assignments and not doing what we’re capable of doing to teams. It’s been the story of the year, particularly down the stretch.”
The Kewpies (7-14) rallied from a 47-38 halftime deficit to take a three-point lead midway through the third quarter. Two technical fouls on Ozark (12-9) led to a seven-point possession for Hickman and what seemed to be a shift in momentum and composure.
But Ozark responded with a 10-0 run to regain its halftime lead, effectively finishing Hickman for good.
“Things were going our way, but we didn’t do anything to capitalize on that,” Hickman guard Marcus Whitt said. “They started hitting shots, and we didn’t settle down. We fell asleep on the defensive end. It is things that have been going on all year.”
Whitt, who led Hickman with 18 points, said that after the loss to Liberty on Wednesday, Johnson reiterated the need to play defense with limited hand activity and to box out on rebounds. Come Saturday, though, Hickman already had seven fouls just 30 seconds into the second quarter. Forward Ernest Dorema picked up his third foul before halftime, allowing Ozark’s Josh Cookinham to dominate in the paint.
“It’s still the same things in certain situations that are killing us,” Whitt said. “We’re fouling way too much right now.”
Ozark made it even tougher on Hickman by hitting nine 3-pointers in the first half and hitting three more during crucial times in the second half. One by Clint Landigren resulted in a four-point play when he was fouled.
“It takes the wind out of you, especially when you’re fighting hard to get back into it,” Johnson said. “When we do (get back into it), we’ve expended so much energy that we don’t have enough getting back (again).”
Both Johnson and Whitt expressed frustration with the team’s inconsistency and, especially, its underachievement. Hickman has now lost seven straight games after winning six straight before that. Whitt even said he thinks Hickman has the ability to be one of the best teams in the state, but Johnson pointed out that ability alone wouldn’t win games.
“The talent is there, but that will has to be there as well,” Johnson said. “Even in the beginning of the season, we played four quarters of basketball. In the last five or six games, we have not played four quarters of basketball. It’s a difficult task.”
Unless Johnson finds a way to reschedule the Lincoln Prep game that was postponed on Feb. 4 because of a roof leak (Hickman played at Columbia College on Saturday as a precaution), the Kewpies only have one more game before the Class 5 District 9 tournament.
For Whitt, a senior, time is running out on reversing the team’s fortunes.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “I want to go out on a good note. It’s going to take a lot for us to get together. We have to check ourselves.
“I still have confidence we can. If you lose your confidence, you’re done.”