The Chiefs were the team that got off to an early lead Tuesday night, setting the tone for the game. Kickapoo (4-1) pulled out the victory over the Pirates 70-61.
Sophomore point guard Jack Simpson opened the game with a big 3 on the Chiefs first possession, starting a 7-0 run that resulted in an early timeout by Branson. Senior Chris Ward has been a consistent presence for Kickapoo this season, dominating the paint with his scoring and rebounding.
In the first half, Ward nearly had a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. Working through Ward, the Chiefs were able to execute their inside-out offense. When getting the ball into Ward’s hands, Kickapoo’s sharp-shooting guards are able to find open shots, thus stretching their opponents’ defense. Branson had trouble handling Ward one-on-one in the first half, but did not want to leave the Chiefs’ guards.
“It’s important being strong in the post and catching hot passes with them playing tough defense on me,” Ward said.
Branson attempted to counter Kickapoo with their own high-powered offense. Senior guard Thatch Unruh was hitting big 3-pointers in the second quarter to keep his team in the game. Unruh had 13 points in the first half, 11 coming in the second quarter. The Pirates’ guard had three 3-pointers in that period and accounted for nearly half of the team’s points in the quarter: 23.
After falling behind by as much as 15 in the first half, Branson battled back at the end of the second quarter, cutting Kickapoo’s lead to just six at the half.
“We got up 15 in the first half and tried to protect some guys in foul trouble,” Kickapoo head coach Dick Rippee said. “We had some trouble though after that and we have to do a better job of getting in the right positions.”
The Pirates continued to hang around with Kickapoo in the second half. The third quarter did not produce the same point totals as the first and second periods did, as Kickapoo outscored Branson just 12-10. Kickapoo continued to work through Ward in the post, but he was not scoring the same way he was in the first half.
In an attempt to slow down Ward, every time he touched the ball multiple defenders swarmed around him to force him to get rid of it.
Though he was not scoring, Ward was passing the ball effectively and finding open teammates for open jump shots. Sophomores Matt Ridder and Jack Simpson were on the receiving end of many of those passes, and converted on the opportunities given to them. Ridder had seven points to compliment Simpson’s 18 points and junior Parker Dean’s nine points. Chris Ward worked hard for his points in the second half, and finished the game with 21 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists.
“He (Ward) is a great passer and is very good at finding open guys,” Rippee said. “He attracts lots of attention but he was able to keep his composure.”
Branson junior guard Da’Quan Ervin struggled in the first three quarters to get his offensive game in rhythm. In the fourth quarter though, Ervin scored 12 points to keep the game tight in the final minutes. Full court defensive pressure by the Pirates forced multiple turnovers in the final four minutes, allowing Branson to cut the lead from double-digits to just five with 51 seconds remaining in the game.
“Our guys didn’t handle their pressure well,” Rippee said. “Give them credit though for putting guys in the right spots and we didn’t do that.”
Branson: Da’Quan Ervin 24, Thatch Unruh 24, Chandler Hall 6, Drew Russell 5, Isaiah Daniels 2
Kickapoo: Chris Ward 21, Jack Simpson 18, Parker Dean 9, Matt Ridder 7, Tyler Bussell 6, Ryan Burland 4, Luke Thomas 4, Tyler Hamilton 1