JEFFERSON CITY — The Washington boys basketball team could have scouted Hickman for the last month and it would not have mattered.
An entirely different Kewpies team showed up on Monday to its Class 5, District 9 quarterfinal game in Jefferson City.
Hickman established its preferred, fast-paced playing style early in the game. But, more important, the team maintained it for the entire game and beat Washington 73-50.
The victory snapped a seven-game losing streak that was marked by incomplete efforts. It also gave Hickman (8-14) another shot at top-seeded Rock Bridge (20-4) in the semifinals on Tuesday.
“(Lately) I don’t think our effort was there for 32 minutes,” Hickman coach David Johnson said. “Tonight was 32 minutes of basketball. You saw a team that, when they want to put it together, can put it together.”
Juniors Ernest "L" Dorema and Jordan Stevens led the Kewpies. They are Hickman’s two most crucial players, but they have played inconsistently.
Dorema, a forward who has battled foul trouble since he first joined the team in January, scored 18 points and rebounded well on both ends of the court. Stevens fought through first-half shooting woes and scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, crushing a late comeback attempt by Washington.
By staying out of foul trouble, Dorema was able to control the boards and jump-start Hickman’s transition game. On the other end, he made it hard for the small Washington team to guard his 6-foot-5 frame by constantly moving to open spots. Most of his baskets came on easy layups or put-backs he earned before even getting the ball.
“I like finding the empty spots,” Dorema said. “Coach DJ said to fill the open areas and move to get myself open.”
Johnson said that because Dorema avoided reach-ins and fouls on contested shots, his presence on the court for most of the game translated to a better defensive effort.
“When you’re pulling the basketball out of the net, you can’t run,” Johnson said. “He makes a difference for us, and he’s learning. He keeps getting better and better.”
Hickman led 30-20 at halftime but transcended its recent performances by playing just as hard in the second half. Johnson went out of his way to encourage Stevens, and the guard responded.
“Jordan’s a kid that usually has to get it early, and if he doesn’t he fights himself,” Johnson said. “I told him to keep attacking; (the shots) are going to fall for you. He stayed with it.”
Washington pulled within nine points with three minutes left when Ronnie Suggs made a 3-pointer against Stevens. Angry that he let it happen, Stevens came right back down and made one of his own.
“He got one on me, and I thought, ‘Man, I have to make up for that,’” Stevens said. “I got him back.”
In the locker room after the game Johnson told his players that it was a whole other team he saw that night. He also said to them that he knows an upset over Rock Bridge can happen, and that maybe the third time is a charm.
The third time this season, that is. Rock Bridge has won the past 17 games between the two teams.
But when Hickman broke a seven-game losing streak earlier this season, it won the next six. Stevens hoped the win over Washington was just the beginning of another streak.
“The season’s just been like that – we’ve lost, then we won, then we lost, and hopefully we’ll get back on a streak here and start winning,” Stevens said. “Tomorrow’s going to be a tough game, but we just have to play like we did tonight."