By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NIXA – A runner in the lane by Anton Brookshire and a 3-pointer from Tanner Oetting with 35 seconds left in the game, gave the Kickapoo Chiefs the cushion they needed to hold off the Willard Tigers for a 74-68 victory and the Nixa Invitational Tournament championship on Saturday evening.
Willard had pulled within a point (65-64) with a 1:09 to go on two free throws by Daniel Abreu, but could never get over the hump and Kickapoo picked up its eighth-straight win with the title.
“It feels good. We haven’t won one in a while,” Kickapoo coach Mitch McHenry said of the tournament win. “I was proud of our guys. We really battled and played a good team, so it feels really good to win three games in three days against quality opponents.”
The Tigers trailed by one (41-40) with 2 seconds left in the second quarter when Brookshire hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to give Kickapoo a 44-40 lead going into the locker room. And, Brookshire wasn’t finished with his heroics as he hit another buzzer-beating shot to close out the third quarter to put the Chiefs up 56-48 going into the final period.
Willard opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer by Dominic Hauck and two free throws from Maurice Grayer to close the gap to three points (56-53). Both teams traded baskets – 2-point baskets and 3-pointers early in the quarter before the Tigers cut Kickapoo’s lead to one point, two different times late in the game.
“It’s a two-possession game and those are six points (from Brookshire), so those are pretty significant,” McHenry said. “It’s two games in a row we’ve hit a buzzer-beater from about half-court, so those are kind of just bonus points. But, when you’re playing a tight game, in a one-possession game, those are big buckets in big moments when you look at end-of-game situations and you’ve only got a one possession lead.”
Brookshire, the Chiefs’ sophomore point guard, put the game on ice by going 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 10 seconds. He led Kickapoo with 33 points and was 8-for-8 from the line.
“I think, over the weekend, we’ve been working hard together and playing together,” Brookshire said. “As a leader, I’ve been trying to pull everybody together, all of us being on the same page and making sure we have positive energy on the floor, and just making sure everybody’s rolling together.”
Willard, which fell to 11-7 overall, stayed in the game from the free-throw line. The Tigers were 27 of 30 from the line, led by Abreu, who hit 18 of 19 of his game-high 39 points from the line.
“Daniel is such a special player,” Willard coach Jeremy Dresslaer said. “He’s a three-level scorer; he’s going to find ways to score. He’s really bought into his role and his teammates have done a really good job of putting him in positions to be successful.”
But, Dresslaer said his team’s loss came down to unforced turnovers.
“We have to be able to execute and we have to be able to finish out close games,” Dresslaer said. “We had plenty of opportunities to pull away. We’re still just trying to figure out how to win. I felt like the last three weeks, since the last time we played Nixa (a 67-65 overtime loss on Jan. 8), that we’ve learned and gotten a lot better.
“It’s unfortunate to keep losing like this – it makes our fifth loss by two possessions or less. The great thing I felt like today, is today is a win-win – a nonconference, non-district game against a quality opponent. I think they’re the best team in the area. We had chances to win and we just didn’t do it.”
Kickapoo, which improved to 13-3 overall, last lost to Ozark on Dec. 21 and is close to where Coach McHenry says his Chiefs need to be heading into the final month of the season.
“As a coach, you want to be playing your best basketball as you approach February,” McHenry said. “So, I think we’re getting closer to our best basketball. But, we’ve also won some tough games and some close games where, if you change a couple of possessions, then we’re not on the winning end of it. So, we’ve got to continue to get better.
“We’ve played good, quality opponents, so now we’re pretty much conference (Ozark Conference) from here on out. We’re just trying to keep that streak going and continue to put good games and good practices together, so that we’re playing our best basketball as February approaches.”
KICKAPOO 74, WILLARD 68
KICKAPOO (13-3) – Micah McIntire 12, Anton Brookshire 33, David Senn 8, Tanner Oetting 3, Elijah Bridgers 3, Cross Elmquist 5, Cary Ragan 1, Cameron Liggans 9.
WILLARD (11-7) – Nathan Bushnell 4, Maurice Grayer 10, Daniel Abreu 39, Riley Young 3, Dominic Hauck 6, Cole Oedewaldt 6.
Third place – Nixa 53, Ozark 51
Fifth place – Shawnee Mission North 58, Winnetonka 40
Seventh place – Clever 70, Harrisonville 59