COLUMBIA — Nobody would have blamed Jimmy Whitt for being overwhelmed when the Hickman boys basketball team beat rival Rock Bridge 55-48 on Tuesday night.
A sold-out crowd of 1,300 people shook the walls of Hickman's brand-new gymnasium before tipoff, Hickman was attempting to end a 20-plus game losing streak against Rock Bridge dating back to 2004 and Whitt, the Kewpies' leading scorer so far this season, drew the loudest roar as the starting lineups were announced over the loudspeakers.
The sophomore guard felt the nerves early on, failing to make a basket in the first quarter while being guarded by Rock Bridge junior and Creighton commit Nick Norton. Hickman coach David Johnson wasn't worried, though, and made sure his young star kept firing.
"When coach called that timeout, he told me to keep my head," Whitt said. "Just keep playing."
Whitt did just that, scoring five points before halftime and playing lockdown defense on Norton.
When the fourth quarter rolled around, all eyes were on No. 33.
"When it came to the fourth quarter, my teammates told me to get it going," Whitt said.
He got it going early, knocking down a 3-pointer that sent the Kewpies' student section to another level of excitement. Whitt's teammates told him to keep shooting, and the sophomore proceeded to hit three more shots, adding a free throw to top off a 10-point fourth quarter and a 15-point night.
"He doesn't get rattled," Johnson said. "He played like the Jimmy Whitt we know, making big shots in critical situations. When he started to turn it on, he showed everybody what he was about."
Whitt wasn't on a solo mission, though. The Kewpies got a big contribution from senior forward Cecil Williams, who tallied 16 points and dominated the Bruins on the glass all night in what Johnson called the big man's coming out party. With each rebound, Williams felt the weight of the losing streak slowly lifting off his shoulders.
"I've been waiting four years for this," a relieved Williams said after the game.
As the buzzer sounded and the losing streak ended, the Kewpies' student body stormed the brand-new court for the first time. A trio of crazed Hickman students immediately located Whitt, hoisted his wiry frame onto their shoulders with ease and carried him to the center of the celebration. His first-quarter jitters were a distant memory, and a smile spread across his face as he lifted his arms toward the crowd.
"That was the best feeling in the world," Whitt said.