By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Technically, Greenwood played a neutral-site game in Friday afternoon’s Show-Me Showdown semifinal against Plattsburg.
With roughly 200 yards separating JQH Arena and Greenwood Laboratory School, the Blue Jays enjoyed an unofficial home-court advantage. And this time around, they had a better showing in their return to JQH.
Greenwood, led by 35 points and 23 rebounds from super sophomore Aminu Mohammed, pulled away down the stretch to defeat Plattsburg, 61-54.
“Since the beginning of the season, we knew the state finals would be here so we’ve been working hard every day in practice to get here,” said Greenwood senior John Sharp. “Now, we’re finally here. We get to celebrate today and have a home-court advantage with all our family and fans watching.”
Mohammed’s 23 rebounds are the fourth-most in a single game in MSHSAA championship history.
Greenwood faces Oran at 2:40 p.m. Saturday at JQH Arena in the Class 2 state championship game.
“Obviously, we’re elated,” said Greenwood coach Darren Taylor. “We played sloppy for a long time and didn’t shoot it good, but credit (Plattsburg’s) defense for being all over us at the same time.”
This weekend marks Greenwood’s fifth final four appearance in program history.
Greenwood finished as a state runner-up in 1991, 1982, 1980 and 1966.
The Blue Jays’ last state championship came in 1942 when there were only two class levels.
“We’re only 200 yards away, so it’s nice to have our family come and watch us and all of our students,” said Greenwood sophomore guard Grant Harper. “It’s a nice atmosphere. It feels like a home-court advantage in a way.”
Clinging to a three-point lead with under three minutes remaining, Greenwood pulled away with its defense and slick in-bounds plays.
After a Plattsburg turnover, Greenwood found Mohammed for an easy layup off an in-bounds play.
“We’ve got lots of in-bounds plays, that’s all I can tell you,” Taylor said. “I don’t even know how many for sure.”
Later, after another Plattsburg turnover, Sharp lofted an in-bounds pass the length of the court to Mohammed for a breakaway layup.
“The baseball pass really set the tone for the next few minutes,” Sharp said. “After that, we executed well and got the win.”
That play put Greenwood up 55-48, and the Blue Jays went 6-for-8 at the free throw line in the final minute to seal the victory.
The game was tied at 48 with 3:58 remaining. Greenwood finished 18-for-26 at the free throw line and shot 20-for-56 from the field overall.
“I thought we executed the last three or four minutes about as good as you could,” Taylor said.
After a disappointing loss in their Blue and Gold Tournament opener in December, the Blue Jays were eager for a second chance to play at JQH Arena.
“It’s a special moment,” Mohammed said. “We played here in the Blue and Gold Tournament and lost, so we came in with the mindset of really wanting to win this game today. It’s a good opportunity to be playing here.”
Garrett Stephens led Plattsburg (22-9 overall) with 28 points. He went 4-for-11 from 3-point range.
Plattsburg had never reached the final four in program history before this season.
“We did things that nobody would’ve expected us to do coming into this season, except for the people in the Plattsburg gym,” said Plattsburg coach said Simon Morefield. “We ran into a giant, to some degree. Mohammed’s a heck of a player.”
The Tigers went ahead, 28-24, early in the third quarter. Tigers guard Isaiah Graham hit a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter to give Plattsburg the lead.
Both teams shot under 30 percent from the field in the first half.
Mohammed shot 14-for-29 from the field.
Greenwood 61, Plattsburg 54
Plattsburg 7 13 21 13 — 54
Greenwood 7 15 19 20 — 61
Plattsburg (22-9 overall) – Garrett Stephens 28, Austin Stevens 9, Isaiah Graham 9, Kaden Hodge 6, Gannon Steggall 2
Greenwood (28-3 overall) – Aminu Mohammed 35, Garrett Litherland 10, Tommy Pinegar 7, John Sharp 6, Grant Harper 3