By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — No. 3 Greenwood advanced to the Blue & Gold semifinal round Friday night with a thrilling, 63-61 comeback victory over No. 6 Mt. Vernon.
The game also served to further Aminu Mohammed’s storied career and cult status among area basketball enthusiasts.
Mohammed, a 5-star junior prospect currently ranked No. 11 in his class by ESPN, poured in 36 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in the win.
Perhaps even more impressive?
Greenwood’s defense recorded three consecutive stops in the final minute thanks to a trio of Mohammed blocks under the basket — all while saddled with four fouls.
Blue Jays head coach Darren Taylor praised Mohammed’s body control and court awareness on the plays, two of which ended up in the hands of Greenwood players.
“Most of the time when you block a shot, it’s either going to go out of bounds or back to the team that had the ball,” Taylor said. “Most block shots don’t result in a possession for you. He’s able to do that — control it sometimes — but he’s obviously an explosive leaper.
Greenwood held a 33-27 advantage at the break, but the Blue Jays had few answers for Mt. Vernon’s perimeter barrage in the second half.
After a Cale Miller basket tied the game at 47-47, Mt. Vernon ripped off a 12-2 run.
Miller, a 6-foot-3 senior, created constant problems for the Blue Jays throughout the game and finished with a team-high 23 points. Teammates Kai Brown and Mason Balley also finished in double figures with 15 and 13 points, respectively.
The ‘Neers also converted a dozen 3-pointers as a team, much to Taylor’s chagrin.
“Give credit to Mt. Vernon — they stepped up and they made shots,” Taylor said. “They were extremely hot. I don’t know how many threes they had — 12 threes, I guess — but you don’t win a lot of them when you give up 12 threes.”
With Mt. Vernon firing on all cylinders and boasting its largest lead of the game at 59-49 — and only 3:11 left on the clock — the situation seemed dire for the tournament’s host team.
Enter Grant Harper.
The 5-foot-10 Greenwood junior drained a pair of clutch 3-pointers during a 14-2 closing run and helped recapture the lead for good.
“As long as there’s hope, we can do anything,” Harper said. “Big players rise to big occasions, and our team’s got plenty of big players. Whatever we can do to win, you know, that’s the way we play — play to win.”
Harper finished with 12 points in the game, and his closing resilience didn’t surprise Taylor.
“He’s done that in some big situations before,” Taylor said. “He has the ability to score — I know he’s a pass-first point guard — but I think if more people start concentrating on other places, his ability to step up and look for that shot and have confidence in making them be big.”
Following Mohammed’s final block under the basket, Mt. Vernon had a final opportunity to tie or win the game with 1.4 seconds to play; however, a long jumper attempt bounced off the rim.
Greenwood (9-0) now moves on to Saturday’s Gold Division semifinal against No. 2 Ozark, while Mt. Vernon (3-6) heads to the fifth-place bracket to face Strafford.
As the tournament hits its midway point, Taylor hopes Greenwood still has some aces to play.
“I’ve always said, as you advance in any tournament, you’ve got to get lucky somewhere, and I kind of feel like we got lucky tonight,” Taylor said. “Maybe that’s the one where it’ll propel us to have a little more confidence tomorrow night.”
Gold Division Quarterfinal: Greenwood – 63, Mt. Vernon – 61
Greenwood 12 21 14 16 — 63
Mt. Vernon 16 11 22 12 — 61
Greenwood scoring: Aminu Mohammed – 36, Grant Harper – 12, Kaden Stuckey – 8, Nicolas Burri – 5, Tommy Pinnegar – 2
Mt. Vernon scoring: Cale Miller – 23, Kai Brown – 15, Mason Ballay – 13, Colby Johnston – 5, Slater Eldridge – 5