CAMDENTON — Layup after layup, free throw after free throw, he wouldn’t go away.
The 6-foot-8 Waynesville (24-3) junior, Juwan Morgan, dominated under the basket, where he had at least a 5-inch height advantage over every starter on the Hickman basketball team.
"We knew he was going to get his buckets and score his points," Hickman senior Chris Clark said. "We’ve been undersized forever."
But the Kewpies (25-2) used a strong 3-point shooting effort to overcome Morgan and Waynesville, 46-45, and move on to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
At halftime, Morgan had amassed 17 points. In the third quarter, he scored eight points, more than the entire Hickman team. The Tigers took their first lead of the game with less than a minute left in the third quarter.
At halftime, Hickman coach David Johnson encouraged his players to step up their intensity. Johnson reminded the players they each had five fouls to play with and shouldn't be afraid to get more physical.
In the fourth quarter, when Morgan caught the ball in the paint, junior Jimmy Whitt would leave his man to help defend Morgan. Whitt's help defense forced several jump balls and disrupted Morgan’s rhythm.
That strategy seemed to pay off, as the Kewpies didn’t allow Morgan to score at all in the fourth quarter. The experience Hickman has against bigger teams, especially in the postseason, also helped.
"It definitely helped having been here before," Whitt said. "You can’t get high or low no matter how the game is going. It was close the whole time so you have to stay focused."
That focus was plain for all to see on the court.
There was no pouting or sighs from Hickman. When Clark drew an offensive foul on Waynesville late in the game, the Tiger crowd chanted, "He’s a flopper," repeatedly, with five claps in between. Clark imitated the crowd with claps of his own and shook his head twice. But he never looked at the crowd.
"I always say that we can play any type of game," Johnson said, referring to the style Hickman plays. No matter the size or speed, the Kewpies have seen it all.
Hickman retook the lead on a nifty reverse layup by senior Douglas Johnson with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter.
With the Kewpies up 42-41 with 40 seconds left, Clark was fouled and went to the line to shoot a one-and-one.
He missed the first and Waynesville got the rebound.
But Hickman forced a stop and Clark got the ball back. He was fouled again and he got a chance to redeem himself. This time he was unnerved and sank both free throws to bring the lead to three.
Whitt then committed three fouls as Hickman had two to give. The final one sent Waynesville to the line.
They hit the first and missed the second. Senior Mason Murray came up with the rebound and found Johnson, who was fouled.
He hit both free throws to put the Kewpies up 46-42 with four seconds left. They walked to the sideline to avoid any contact with Waynesville players, who sprinted down the court and hit a three as time expired.
Hickman admitted it wasn’t a pretty game all around, but it has been there before. The Kewpies know how to get it done.