COLUMBIA – A line of glassy-eyed teenagers stood on the court as a tournament official put second-place medals over their heads.
After receiving the medals, the Hickman boys’ basketball team had to witness the champions receive their medals and trophy.
The Kewpies lost a thrilling Class 5 state championship game at Mizzou Arena in overtime to Christian Brothers College, 86-77.
As CBC received its awards, Hickman senior Mason Murray walked down the line of his teammates. He hugged each of them and whispered, “I love you.”
Murray didn’t have his best game, but came through when Hickman (27-3) needed a basket late in the fourth quarter.
Up until then, the Kewpies followed the demeanor of their composed coach. That’s the reason they stayed in the game despite a 13-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter.
Hickman coach David Johnson never sits down; he paces the sideline with his hands on his hips or crossed on his chest. He claps and points to his head to remind his players to be smart. He’ll try to defend his players by having a word with the referees, but that’s mostly it. There’s not much negative emotion.
After the game, CBC coach Justin Tatum said he was impressed with Hickman’s heart and effort.
In the first two games of the state tournament against Waynesville and Willard, the Kewpies won by a combined four points.
They don’t show emotion often and don’t stop fighting.
“A lot of people say they won't give up but not actually do it,” Johnson said after the quarterfinal victory over Willard. “I'm just so proud that our guys do it."
They had to withstand a 43-point, 20 rebound game from 6-foot-8 Texas signee Jordan Barnett. Hickman junior star Jimmy Whitt is 6-foot-3 and about 160 pounds, he says. Whitt wanted the challenge of defending Barnett, and according to Johnson, Whitt played good defense; Barnett just made a lot of tough shots.
“I watched some LeBron (James) videos (on how to defend down low),” Whitt said with a laugh after the game. Whitt finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and seven steals, including a late surge to send the game into overtime.
The Kewpies were down double-digits for much of the fourth quarter before going on a late run. They trailed by three points with 29 seconds left. That's when the ball found a surprising hero.
Murray hadn’t scored all game but was open in the corner to drain a game-tying 3-pointer. But Hickman's comeback effort wasn't rewarded. The Kewpies were no match for CBC during the four-minute overtime period.
Hickman fell behind early in OT and never came back. Barnett, whom Hickman struggled to stop all night, scored eight of the Cadets' 15 points in the extra period.
Whitt was visibly distraught on the court immediately after the game.
When the Kewpies stood in line with their medals, Whitt took his off immediately. He clutched it in his hand and stepped away from his teammates. He thought about how close they came.
He muttered to himself and fought back tears.
Last year Hickman lost in the state semifinals to eventual champion Rockhurst.
Whitt's mood changed by the time he met the media roughly 30 minutes after the final buzzer. With the emotion somewhat behind him, he reflected on how positive the season was for Hickman.
Whitt will be without his four fellow starters next year, all of whom graduate in May.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.