ASHLAND – It was going to take some serious chaos for the Hickman boys basketball team’s Friday matchup against Southern Boone to top the wild triple-overtime affair it had against Rock Bridge on Tuesday.
And though the Kewpies’ 70-54 win looked like an easy one on the scoreboard, elements for an upset were there. The Eagles, despite playing two classes lower than the Kewpies, had a winning record and a future NCAA Division I player in forward Nick Carlos, who presented a threat both from outside and in the paint.
"I feel like you have to have a lot of mental stability, because you come off a huge win like that (against Rock Bridge) and you come against a good team in Southern Boone and it’s going to be the same thing," Hickman sophomore guard Jimmy Whitt said. "So it’s like we have to play just as hard as we did last time, you can’t have a letdown."
The fact that it was the school’s "Courtwarming" night also made the crowd in Ashland particularly hostile, and Whitt said there was some déjà vu from Tuesday’s game.
"We felt like 'dang, just like last game,'" he said.
Hickman pushed the game’s pace early, though, and was eventually able to use solid offensive rebounding and good perimeter defense to run its record to 18-2.
The Kewpies deployed a full-court press immediately after tip-off, and Whitt retook the key offensive role he has played all season, putting up 11 points – with three 3-pointers – in the first quarter to help Hickman to a 21-12 lead. Whitt had 17 points for the game.
"We knew that they were going to have a big crowd here and they were going to be amped up and everything," Hickman coach David Johnson said. "I wanted to try to get us going early so we could get some energy going."
Southern Boone stormed back in the middle of the game, though, bringing the deficit to within 3 at the end of the half. With Hickman senior forward Cecil Williams’ hand in his face, Carlos hit a prayer 3-pointer to give the Eagles extra momentum heading into the break.
Southern Boone proceeded to tie the game multiple times in the third quarter and energized the crowd, though it failed to take the lead.
"I thought their (Southern Boone's) other guys made some big shots on us, and we kind of fell asleep on them, and it gave them a lot of life and a lot confidence and really got the crowd involved," Johnson said.
A one-handed slam by Whitt and a 3-pointer by senior guard Corey Estrada gave the Kewpies momentum to eventually pull away. They baited Carlos into tough situations on the perimeter, and Whitt played him tight despite a clear size mismatch.
Williams gave Hickman an advantage by being a force on the glass, pulling down missed shots to give the Kewpies second chances and providing help on the defensive end as well.
"When Cecil is engaged and he gets after it, he cleans the glass up better than any kid I’ve seen in the state of Missouri," Johnson said.
Johnson also pinpointed junior guard Chris Clark as a key to the late-game surge. Clark slashed his way to the basket and helped energize the offense on his way to an 18-point night.
Hickman next plays on February 2 at home against Northwest Academy of Law.