Jim Sutherland wasn’t sure what to expect.
After losing five seniors from last year’s team, the Hickman boys’ basketball coach entered the season with plenty of questions.
If Saturday’s season-opening 78-75 home loss to the Hannibal Pirates is any indication, the Kewpies are a work in progress.
“I really didn’t have any expectations, outside of wanting the kids to play for 32 minutes with an effort because I had no idea,” Sutherland said. “This helped us get started.”
Hickman looked a lot like a team with a starting lineup composed of only two players with significant experience on the varsity level. That tentativeness was most evident at the free-throw line, where the Kewpies shot 15-of-30.
“I thought we were very nervous to begin with,” Sutherland said. “I thought it showed in our free-throw shooting. Our concentration and focus was not there.”
Hannibal (2-4) wasn’t forced to overcome first-game jitters.
“(It’s) tough to play a ball club that’s had several under their belt,” Sutherland said.
Rather than dwell on the missed free throws that likely cost his team the game, Sutherland seemed upbeat about his young team, and he was pleased with the fashion in which the Kewpies nearly overcame a 14-point deficit with about six minutes to go.
With the Kewpies trailing 65-51, senior Taylor Trogdon found his rhythm. His three 3-pointers helped ignite a frantic 18-6 run that pulled Hickman to within 71-69 with 2:07 left.
“I was just playing my hardest on defense,” Trogdon said. “My defense fuels my shot.”
Some heavy backcourt pressure gave Hannibal problems late. Sutherland said the press is only going to get tougher for opponents as the season moves forward.
“We gave up some easy layups in the press, but that’s because we haven’t used the press a lot against anyone other than ourselves,” he said.
With the pressure building, the Pirates couldn’t put the Kewpies away. Hannibal seemed to have the game locked up after two free throws from Brian Scott made it 76-72 with 25.5 seconds to play, but another 3-pointer, this time from Kyle Smith, made it 76-75 with 14.3 seconds left.
That was as close as the Kewpies would get. Pirates’ junior Aaron Hugenberg made two free throws and Smith’s good look at a 3-point shot missed. Trogdon’s desperation heave at the buzzer bounced off the side of the basket.