Chris Ward will probably never be mistaken for a point guard.
The 6-foot-5 senior is known for patrolling the paint for Kickapoo, pouring in points, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. But it was his passing acumen that helped the Chiefs pull away from Glendale for a 74-59 Ozark Conference win at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center Tuesday night.
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Ward not only posted a game-high 23 points, but also dished out a handful of assists to set up his teammates for some easy buckets.
“One of the things that he does really well - besides scoring - is he’s a great passer,” said Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee. “He sees the floor really well and he has a really high basketball IQ. And to credit our guys, I felt like we had some nice basket cuts and recognized that when our guy left us to go double, we’d cut, (Chris) was able to find us, and we got some easy baskets.”
And that offensive attack worked well, with Ward often catching the ball in the high post and looking for open cutters before attacking the basket himself.
“We started getting the ball inside more and we knew they were going to adjust,” said Ward. “So we started cutting to the basket. It’s hard cover all the shooters and try to double down on the post. That makes it a lot easier on me to get inside or break it off to them.”
It was a close game at the half - with Kickapoo on top 34-28 - before Ward and the Chiefs started to pull away in the third quarter. Ward opened the period with a conventional 3-point play, then worked a slick give-and-go with guard Jack Simpson for an easy lay-in and a double-digit lead for Kickapoo (16-5 overall, 5-0 Ozark Conference).
“I think people that are seeing Chris play are realizing he’s a very good athlete,” said Rippee. “We weren’t in the Blue and Gold or (Tournament of Champions) this year where people could see our team and see that Chris has really developed as a player.”
Matt Ridder took over late in the third, scoring eight points in a 10-2 run that put the Chiefs on top 57-39 with 1:05 to play in the third quarter. Glendale was never closer than 16 points the rest of the way as Kickapoo cruised to the win and took a 46-45 lead in the all-time series between Springfield’s south side high schools.
“They’re our rivals in everything,” said Ward. “We don’t really have to get excited, because it’s Glendale. Everyone makes it important in our school.”
Ward was one of four Chiefs in double figures, as Ridder finished with 16 and Simpson 14. Freshman Ryan Burland chipped in 11 - eight of them in the second-half - as the 6-foot-6 youngster filled in for Ward.
“We kind of had a two-headed monster going there,” said Rippee. “We tried to keep them both fresh and they were both very productive inside. That opened up some stuff for some of our shooters. Ridder had a nice game, hit some threes and he’s done some nice things for our team. We’re getting better, and that’s what you want to be doing this time of year.”
Glendale (9-12, 2-4) was paced by 14 points off the bench from sophomore post Nate Nagy. Hassan Khan added 8, as 11 different Falcons scored for coach Sean Williamson.
“I thought Glendale played well,” said Rippee. “They were well prepared and they shot it really well. Some of those shots we contested pretty good, but they were still making them.”