COLUMBIA — When senior Jordan Stevens walked on to the court for Tuesday night’s boys' basketball game between Rock Bridge and Hickman, he knew it would be the final regular-season game of his career playing in the rivalry.
But this was the first time he would be playing it for the Bruins’ side.
After his family moved across town earlier this year, Stevens, a 6-foot guard, transferred from Hickman to Rock Bridge, affecting both his allegiance in the rivalry and his eligibility for the first half of the season.
Perhaps succumbing to the combined pressure of his shortened season and playing against his former teammates, he struggled during the first half. He missed his first four field goals, turned the ball over multiple times and scored only two points.
But with five minutes left in the fourth quarter and his team hanging on to a three-point lead, Stevens raced down the court and dunked the ball in traffic.
The Bruins overflowing fan section, dressed in safari-themed costumes, exploded in cheers, but there was no noticeable change in Stevens’ serious expression. He wasn’t done.
The next possession he went straight back to the basket, made a layup and drew a foul, sinking the free throw for a three-point play. His five straight points put the Bruins ahead by seven, and the Kewpies never got the game any closer than that.
Even then Stevens still wasn’t done. A few minutes later, he was racing down the court again and threw down his second dunk of the game, giving him nine points in the 64-50 win over his former team.
“He wanted this win, and not only did he want the win, but he wanted to perform well,” Rock Bridge assistant coach Quentin Mitchell said. “And sometimes when you want it so bad, you can be overanxious. But once he calmed down and let things start coming to him, he got a lot better.”
Stevens said he struggled early on because he was trying too hard.
“This was just a big game I was really looking forward to, and I just put too much pressure on myself,” Stevens said. “Luckily, I got the opportunities to get my confidence back.”
Stevens wasn’t the only senior affected by the pressure and excitement of playing in the rivalry game in their final season.
Center Austin Ray, who sprained his ankle during Monday’s practice, led the team with 19 points, going 6-for-7 from the field and 7-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Rock Bridge head coach Jim Scanlon said he didn’t even expect Ray to play. Neither did Ray's doctor.
“This morning the doctor said, ‘I would be surprised if you played tonight,’” Ray said. “But with it being senior year and against Hickman, I felt that I wasn’t going to let anything hold me back from getting on the court and playing.”
Stevens’ former coach at Hickman, David Johnson, said he had mixed emotions watching his team play against a former player.
“As far as seeing him, certainly it is a little bittersweet,” Johnson said. “He has made the most of his opportunities, and I wish him the best, except when he plays against us.”
After the game, Stevens shook hands with his former coach and teammates before being swarmed by the student section. They lifted him into the air in an encore of applause. It might have only been Stevens' fifth game with Rock Bridge, but his fans made it clear that he was as much a Bruin as any of them.
The Bruins play their next game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Jefferson City High School.