By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Kickapoo Chiefs were in position to avoid a familiar spot for local teams in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
Playing for 7th place.
Instead, victory eluded the Chiefs.
Kickapoo couldn’t close out a seven-point lead with five minutes remaining and lost 71-66 to Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) in the consolation semifinals Friday night at JQH Arena.
“We weren’t tight enough with the ball to finish the game,” said Chiefs coach Mitch McHenry. “That’s what’s disappointing because we did everything we needed to do up to that point to be successful and win a game against a really good team.”
Entering Friday night, local teams were 1-23 against out-of-area teams in the Tournament of Champions dating back to 2014. The lone win: Ozark beating Christ The King in the 2018 consolation round.
Kickapoo certainly had its chance to avoid the 7th place game.
Christ The King, which trailed 57-50 with five minutes to go, finished the game on a 9-1 run. Elijah Bridgers’ 3-pointer gave Kickapoo a brief 65-62 lead with two minutes remaining.
“The last two minutes, I felt like we kind of fell apart,” said Chiefs guard Anton Brookshire.
Brookshire, who scored 33 in Kickapoo’s loss to Oak Hill Academy on Thursday, had another solid game for the Chiefs. He finished with 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists in Friday’s loss.
“He could be the best point guard we’ve faced this year, and we’ve played against guys going to Gonzaga and Florida,” said Christ the King coach Joe Arbitello.
Cameron Liggins scored 16 and Bridgers added 10 points for the Chiefs, who shot 24-for-46 from the field overall. But the Chiefs also had far more turnovers (15) than the Royals (five).
“We cut our turnovers down a bit, you’re looking at six-to-eight more points we could’ve scored,” McHenry said.
Sterling Jones scored 23 and Ryan Myers added 20 points to lead the Royals (4-7 overall). Christ The King trailed 51-42 late in the third quarter after a Liggins layup.
“(Kickapoo) is probably the third-best team we’ve played all year,” Arbitello said. “That’s no knock to (Kickapoo), because the other two were Rancho Christian (Calif.) and then Vashon last night, both teams ranked in the Top 10 of the country.”
While Kickapoo is headed for the 7th place game, they won’t have a Blue and Gold rematch with Greenwood on Saturday. The Blue Jays upset Greensboro (N.C.) 61-57 in Friday’s other consolation semifinal.
Kickapoo (8-5 overall) will face Greensboro (N.C.) Day School at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Tournament of Champions 7th place game.
“At this level – the high-varsity level – it’s not just good enough to play hard. You have to do more than play hard,” McHenry said. “We played hard, but I didn’t think we played smart. We just have to learn from it. We have to finish games better.”
Christ the King 71, Kickapoo 66
Kickapoo 13 14 24 15 — 66
Christ The King 9 21 18 23 — 71
Kickapoo – Anton Brookshire 20, Cameron Liggins 16, Elijah Bridgers 10, Cary Ragan 9, Terrell Gladney 6, Cross Elmquist 5
Christ The King – Sterling Jones 23, Ryan Myers 20, Lovell Smith 10, Jahlil Bethea 9, Nicolas Molina 5, Brandon Williams 2, Devere Palmer 2