A red hot Kickapoo team couldn't be stopped in Saturday's Class 5, District 11 championship game. The Chiefs scored on all 13 of their possessions in the second quarter and netted 33 points en route to an 89-75 win over Nixa.
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Kickapoo (21-6) advances to play Willard in a Class 5 sectional game at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.
After holding a one-point lead (16-15) at the end of the first quarter, Kickapoo broke the game open in the second quarter, hitting on 13-of-17 shots. The first-half ended with senior guard Tyler Bussell knocking down a 3-pointer while being fouled. Bussell missed the ensuing free throw, but the play gave Kickapoo an 18-point lead. On the following possession, Bussell followed in a missed lay-up as the buzzer sounded, sending the Chiefs to the half holding a 20-point lead.
Nixa mounted a late rally as senior guard Austin Ruder scored 29 of his game-high 32 in the second-half, but the Eagles couldn't slow down the Kickapoo offense long enough to cut into the Chiefs' lead.
"We shot the ball really well and I am proud of the guys' effort," said Kickapoo head coach Dick Rippee. "It has been kind of a stepping stone for this team and two great seniors (Tyler) Bussell and (Chris) Ward have led us all year and the young guys are just growing up in front of us around them."
Ward, a powerful 6-foot-5 senior post player, had 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The attention he drew from Nixa inside created open looks for the Chiefs throughout much of the contest, including the 33-point second quarter by Kickapoo.
The Chiefs knocked down six 3-pointers in the frame and made all eight of its 3-pointers in the first-half. Sophomore Matthew Ridder hit three 3-pointers and scored nine of his 20 points in the second quarter.
"They were sinking in around (Ward) so much that it opened up some shots for our guys, and our perimeter guys are capable of making some shots," said Rippee. "We just got on a little run there and it is contagious."
Kickapoo started three sophomores around Ward and Bussell, who scored 18 points in the game. In addition to Ridder, a 6-foot-1 guard, the Chiefs started sophomore guards Tyson Batiste and Jack Simpson, and all five starters finished in double figures. Batiste finished with 16 points, including a 7-for-10 performance at the free throw line in the games' final minutes, while Simpson added 12 points.
"Not only do we (seniors) help lead them, but there are a couple of young kids that are doing the same thing that we (seniors) are doing," said Ward. "Everyday, they are getting better, helping me even. Jack (Simpson), he works so hard and it makes me want to work even harder."
For Nixa (22-6) the loss ends the careers of senior standouts Austin Ruder and Jalen Norman, both of whom were four-year starters for the Eagles.
Norman, who had missed 10 games after suffering a knee injury at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, returned in Thursday's semifinal win over Ozark, and played sparingly on Saturday. Norman sat out the entire third quarter, but returned to the game in the fourth quarter.
He scored five of his seven points in the fourth quarter as the Eagles attempted to mount a comeback, and finished the game with 10 rebounds. Ruder, who has signed to play next season at Missouri State University, scored 17 fourth-quarter points, including five 3-pointers, but the Eagles couldn't put the brakes on the Chiefs offense.
"The last time we played Nixa we led by nine at the half, and ended up losing by 11," Rippee said. "Our older guys made sure to point that out to our younger guys at the half. We knew they are a great team and were going to make runs. (Ruder) what a great player. I am looking forward to being a fan of his instead of coaching against him."
Ruder hit 3-pointer with 5:11 remaining in the game to trim the Kickapoo lead to 12 (68-56), and after the Chiefs missed the front end of a one-and-one on the following possession, Nixa had the ball and an opportunity to cut the KHS lead to 10 or single digits.
But Nixa missed a 3-pointer and Ward scored at the other end, extending Kickapoo's lead back to 14. The Chiefs went on to score on each of their next nine possessions, effectively thwarting any chance at a Nixa comeback late in the fourth quarter.
"Our kids didn't quit and our fans don't expect anything different," said Nixa head coach Jay Osborne. "We played with more enthusiasm in the second half and played with more desire. The first half we were in a fog, blame it on whatever you want to ... we got beat and that is all there is to it."