By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
How close it was – a three-point margin with three minutes left – would surprise most people.
It was no surprise for the quietly confident Kickapoo Chiefs.
Kickapoo went bucket for bucket with national power Oak Hill Academy for nearly 30 minutes in Thursday night’s Bass Pro Tournament of Champions quarterfinals at JQH Arena.
The Chiefs made 13 3-pointers, but Oak Hill ultimately won 78-63 behind a late scoring run. Cam Thomas led four Oak Hill starters in double figures with 26 points and added six rebounds.
“I’m super proud of how we played tonight,” said Kickapoo senior guard Elijah Bridgers. “A lot of people probably didn’t expect us to play this well. I had a feeling we were going to play (well) tonight. I’m just glad we were able to come together and do it.”
Chiefs junior guard Anton Brookshire scored a game-high 33. With Missouri State coach Dana Ford watching courtside, Brookshire finished 12-for-22 from the field overall including 7-for-12 from 3-point range.
“He’s very good,” said Oak Hill coach Steve Smith. “We knew he was their best player, by far. We should’ve done a better job on him.”
Brookshire led the Chiefs with seven rebounds and finished with three assists and five turnovers.
“There’s some little stuff I could’ve done more or better to help my team out,” Brookshire said. “But overall, I really didn’t pay attention to individual stats and stuff like that.”
Kickapoo’s perimeter shooting kept it in the game. The Chiefs were 13-for-30 on 3-point attempts. Oak Hill finished 27-for-50 from the field overall and 9-for-20 on 3s.
“We didn’t think (Kickapoo) could play with us inside the arc, but we gave up 30 (3-point attempts) and they made 13 of them,” Smith said.
Brookshire followed his seventh triple of the game with a layup that brought Kickapoo within 61-56 with 4:23 left.
The Chiefs then got as close as 63-60 on Cameron Liggins’ layup.
“We haven’t had very many close games,” Smith said. “This was one of our closest games of the season. They didn’t miss many (3s) in the second half until the final few minutes, and then, they didn’t make any.”
Oak Hill answered with 14 unanswered points over the next two minutes.
“We came out, gave it everything we had,” Brookshire said. “It came super close. I felt like we could’ve got (a win). But there’s not too much more I could’ve asked for from my teammates.”
Kickapoo fell behind 16-3 early as Oak Hill – from Mouth of Wilson, Va. – started 6-for-6 from the field and 4-for-4 on 3-point attempts. The Chiefs didn’t cave, and trailed by just seven after the first quarter.
“We recognize and know what Oak Hill’s about. The biggest thing we wanted to do going into the game was compete,” said Chiefs coach Mitch McHenry. “We felt like if we played the right way and played together, we’d be able to compete. We have talent and we’re able to do a lot of good things when we’re playing together.”
Oak Hill 78, Kickapoo 63
Oak Hill 22 17 17 22 — 78
Kickapoo 15 15 16 17 — 63
Oak Hill (24-1 overall) – Cam Thomas 26, Darius Maddox 14, Jamari Sibley 11, K.K. Robinson 10, Darrick Jones Jr. 8, Emmanuel Okpomo 4, Jalen Ricks 3, Bradley Ezewiro 2
Kickapoo (8-4 overall) – Anton Brookshire 33, Elijah Bridgers 12, Cameron Liggins 7, Elijah Bridgers 6, Terrell Gladney 3, Cross Elmquist 2