SPRINGFIELD — For a couple minutes it looked like the run was over.
It looked like whatever magic, whatever energy that had carried the Hickman boys basketball team to this point might run out and leave them pressed against the windows of Mizzou Arena watching a state semifinal game in which they wouldn't play.
But Jimmy Whitt, the Kewpies' poised sophomore guard, scoffed at the thought, spearheading a furious late comeback that sent Hickman to a 73-68 win over Kickapoo on Saturday in the Class 5 quarterfinals at Drury University in Springfield.
"I feel like, when we got down, Douglas (Johnson, a junior guard) hit some big shots, and I feel like I needed to step up for my team," Whitt said. "And I was able to hit some big shots and I just felt like this is what we've been talking about ever since I've been at Hickman, we just want to get a final four and make history, and that's what we were able to do tonight."
From the start, the Kewpies were challenged by Kickapoo's Chris Ward, the Chiefs' mountain of a center.
In trying to defend him, the Kewpies racked up 22 team fouls, twice what Kickapoo had. Perhaps the biggest thing keeping the Chiefs from a win was their mediocre 58.1 free-throw shooting percentage.
Nonetheless, with Ward bullying the Kewpies' rotation of forwards under the basket – he racked up 16 rebounds, just four less than Hickman's team total – the Chiefs had a 65-58 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
But then Johnson drilled back-to-back 3-pointers, and with his team newly exhilarated, Whitt went to work.
Earlier in the quarter, he had handled the ball at midcourt, staring at it intently as if he was trying to divine something. That tactic apparently worked, though with a slight delay. A long jumper for two points, a 3-pointer and two free throws with 3.6 seconds left. It almost seemed routine.
Whitt scored seven of the Kewpies' last nine points to add to his team-best total of 27. He also led the team with three blocked shots – one of which sounded like it could have deflated the ball – and had four steals.
Was this the best Whitt performance of the season?
"You know, for me, it's just a daily thing that we see that kid do what he does, as far as that," Hickman coach David Johnson said.
For Rockhurst, Hickman's next opponent, that's a truly scary thing to hear. The Kewpies play the Hawklets on March 15 at Mizzou Arena.