In a game that was shaping up to go down to the last possession, the Hillcrest Hornets kept Willard scoreless down the stretch to claim a 13-point home victory on Tuesday night.
Leading by just three with less than three minutes to go, the Hornets scored 13 unanswered points – most coming at the free throw line – to beat Willard 57-44.
Chris Kendrix’putback with 2:50 remaining in the game put Willard within 44-41. But the Tigers would not score again until the final seconds when the outcome had already been decided.
Hornets senior guard Thomas Whitaker scored a game-high 22 and was 11 of 12 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Whitaker made six consecutive free throws to extend Hillcrest’s lead to 50-41.
Free throws played a large role in the game for both teams.
Kendrix had 18 points, 11 of those coming at the free throw in the first half against an aggressive and physical Hillcrest defense. Kendrix didn’t attempt a free throw in the second half and made his first field goal of the game halfway through the fourth quarter.
Willard trailed for most of the game, including 25-12 early in the second quarter after Roy Hardy drained a 3-pointer for Hillcrest to cap an 11-3 spurt. The Tigers slowly chipped away at the deficit over the next two quarters.
Back-to-back layups from junior reserve Skyler Baker got Willard within 37-36. Kendrix’ first field goal of the night tied the game at 39 apiece.
Willard would see Baker and starter Z Barr foul out of the game. Kolbe Kinghorn added 14 points for Willard. Kinghorn and Kendrix scored 18 of Willard’s 20-first half points.
The Tigers (5-3) host Carl Junction on Friday night. Hillcrest (5-2) plays Thursday at Nixa.
Hillcrest 57, Willard 44
Willard 9 11 16 8 --- 44
Hillcrest 14 12 11 20 --- 57