COLUMBIA – Tuesday night's game wasn't the first time the Hickman boys basketball team had played Jefferson City this season. They had faced the Jays twice before, winning both times.
What made this game different, though, was the Kewpies' new No. 1 ranking in the MBCA/mosports.com poll which came out Monday, putting them at the top of the state's Class 5 list.
The team celebrated when Hickman coach David Johnson briefly addressed the topic after a shootaround, but Johnson refrained from pressing the issue.
"We clapped and applauded for about 10, 15 seconds, and I said 'Now let's get this over,'" Johnson said. "'Now we have to play basketball, we have to earn it.'"
And even with the game's abnormally late 8:30 p.m. start time, the Kewpies (19-2) played a game worthy of their ranking, overcoming an initially resilient Jays team for a 87-65 victory.
From the opening minute, the Kewpies applied intense pressure on defense, forcing Jefferson City to break through a full-court press.
Hickman got a multitude of steals, nicking passes in transition and poking arms around the Jays' ballhandlers.
Sophomore guard Jimmy Whitt was especially effective for the Kewpies, using his long arms to effortlessly deflect the ball and grab layups off of in-bounds plays. Whitt finished with a game-high 28 points.
"I just try to get my hands in the passing lane, because I have long arms and coach tells me (to) use that to my advantage, so I try to tip as many balls, get my hands on as many balls as I can," he said.
Senior forward Cecil Williams got in early foul trouble when he drew two in the first half of the first quarter, forcing Johnson to dig into his bench.
"We talk to Cecil about (how) we want him to be aggressive, but he's got to know when not to be so aggressive as far as to kind of let the offense come to him," Johnson said. "Sometimes, he tries to force things that are not there and gets himself into a little bit of trouble."
Williams was able to play most of the rest of the game, though, finishing with 17 points. He also got in on the poaching act, grabbing passes off the press and on occasion passing the ball to a teammate with his chest on the floor.
Although the two teams left the first quarter tied at 19 and Jefferson City kept the game tight for much of the second quarter, Hickman ended the first half on a 14-2 run and carried much of that momentum over, pulling away in the third quarter and never trailing in the second half.
Hickman next plays Helias Catholic on Friday in Jefferson City.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.