Jayson Tatum lived up to his pedigree. Kickapoo came this close to shocking those in Missouri not wearing Brown and Gold.
The 2016 Class 5 boys’ state championship game was a good one.
In the end, Kickapoo ran out of gas in its quest to complete an epic comeback and pull off one of the biggest upsets in Show-Me Showdown history.
Tatum, a 5-star Duke commit and Gatorade Player of the Year in Missouri for the third straight season, had 40 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Red Devils to a 72-59 victory over Kickapoo on Saturday night at Mizzou Arena.
“Chaminade’s everything they’re built up to be,” said Chiefs coach Dick Rippee. “At the same time, couldn’t be more proud of our group. We just fought like crazy.”
Tatum was a load all night for Kickapoo, as he feasted on jump shots against shorter defenders, then crashed the glass for a handful of put-backs and tip-ins when he could.
Tatum finished 13-for-22 from the field, including 4-for-7 on 3-point attempts. An 85 percent free throw shooter, he made 10 of 11 free throw attempts.
The best from Tatum came during a second-quarter stretch in which he scored 8 unanswered points in 51 seconds. The outburst capped an 11-0 Chaminade run that stretched the Red Devils’ lead from four to 41-26 and threatened to put the game out of reach for the Chiefs.
Twenty-seven of Tatum’s 40 points came in the first half.
“I thought our guys fought him,” Rippee said. “I don’t know, but I think if you asked him he’d say he had to earn some stuff tonight. There’s a reason he’s going to Duke, there’s a reason he’s up for National Player of the Year. He’s a fantastic player and a great person.”
The 13-point margin in the final score is misleading, as Kickapoo was within 55-54 with 4:13 remaining after a pair of Cam Davis free throws.
Chaminade answered with a three-point player by Tyler Cook then consecutive 3-pointers by Duquesne commit Michael Lewis II, who had just 2 points up to that point.
“They were clutch,” said Red Devils coach Frank Bennett, a Drury alum. “We were stagnant on offense and we knew it was going to get tough at some point. Someone else had to step up. Jason and Tyler (Cook) were carrying the load the bulk of the night and he caught it, was in rhythm and let it fly. Thank God they went in. It gave us breathing room and a little fuel to go back on the defensive end and guard a little bit.
The second of Lewis II’s treys put the Red Devils ahead 64-56 with 2:40 remaining. Jared Ridder hit a 3-pointer on the Chiefs’ next possession to cut the deficit to five, but those would be Kickapoo’s last points of the game.
“It’d be real easy to, after the first half, succumb to (Chaminade) and give it to them,” Rippee said. “We certainly didn’t do that. We played with a lot of heart, a lot of pride. I love my guys. I just hurt for them right now. I know they’re hurt.”
Kickapoo chopped a 15-point halftime deficit to five (43-38) midway through the third quarter on a dazzling alley-oop dunk from Isaac Johnson to Niekie Thomas Fontleroy that capped an 8-0 run.
The Chiefs trailed 49-43 going into the fourth quarter, where they got within three points on two occasions over the first four minutes.
“Kickapoo is here for a reason. They’re extremely good,” Bennett said. “They play extremely hard and play together.”
Chaminade outscored Kickapoo 25-9 in the second quarter, but the Chiefs out-scored the Red Devils in the first, third and fourth.
The win marks Chaminade’s second state championship in program history and first for Tatum. The Red Devils finish 27-5 overall, with none of those losses coming to an in-state opponent.
“By far the best moment in my life,” said Tatum, who became Chaminade’s all-time leading scorer in Thursday’s semifinal win over St. Louis U. High, surpassing Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal. “Just seeing the clock go down with my best friends, my coaches, our fans, everyone that supported us. Three years of not accomplishing our goal, people saying we couldn’t do it. Just to finally have it, all the hard work we put in behind closed doors, people wouldn’t understand.”
Tatum and Cook were a two-man show for Chaminade through three quarters. The duo combined for 47 of Chaminade’s 49 points entering the final frame, with Tatum tallying 35 points.
The Red Devils were a heavy favorite to win it all last year as well, before blowing a fourth-quarter lead in the semifinals against Park Hill South, losing, and ultimately finishing 3rd.
“It’s good knowing everything’s paid off,” said Cook, an Iowa commit who had 17 points and five rebounds. “We were sitting in this spot a year ago, crying tears of sadness because we didn’t reach the championship game. From that point on, I just told people that we weren’t going to feel that again.” because we didn’t reach championship game.”
Kickapoo finished 19-for-57 (33 percent) on field goal attempts in the game, with many of its close shots being altered by Chaminade’s length and athleticism. The Red Devils, who finished 3rd in January’s Tournament of Champions in Springfield, shot 25-for-48 (52 percent) and out-rebounded Kickapoo 41-29.
Still, Thomas-Fontleroy said the Chiefs’ confidence and belief never wavered.
“I know everybody doubted us coming into this game, but I don’t think any of us had any doubt for a second that we couldn’t win this game,” Thomas-Fontleroy said. “At times, we got kind of negative throughout our team, but I feel like we never gave up and we pushed through it all. I know everyone on our team thought we could win.”
Seniors Thomas-Fontleroy scored 15 and Isaac Johnson had 14 points in their final games in a Chiefs uniform. The Chiefs also graduate 6th man Derrick Roberson along with reserves Hayden Schmitz, Kyle Geifer, Riley Herron and Michael Fowler.
Junior and leading scorer Jared Ridder, playing on a bum ankle, had 9 points and was 3-for-9 on 3-point attempts.
Rippee said Ridder spent the past week receiving treatment before and after school, then doing stretches 4-5 times a day.
“He had a hard time planting – Chaminade did a good defensively on him – but he had a hard time planting and coming off screens, which is one of the things he does the best,” Rippee said. “(Ridder) put a lot into it and then to get to the state championship game and not be 100 percent, it’s gotta be frustrating for him.”
The loss was the first to an in-state opponent this season for the Chiefs, who finished 29-3 overall. Kickapoo was seeking its third state championship overall and first since receiving Vashon’s vacated 2006 state championship.
“We proved how good of a team we can be throughout the season,” said Chiefs guard Cam Davis, who scored a team-high 17. “All we were worried about this game was just fighting and competing more than anything. Win, lose or draw, we know that if we go out there and fight that we’ll be OK in the end.”
Chaminade 72, Kickapoo 59
Chaminade 16 25 8 23 — 72
Kickapoo 17 9 17 16 — 59
Chaminade – Jayson Tatum 40, Tyler Cook 17, Michael Lewis II 8, Jericole Hellems 5, Reggie Crawford Jr. 2
Kickapoo – Cam Davis 17, Niekie Thomas-Fontleroy 15, Isaac Johnson 14, Jared Ridder 9, Derrick Roberson 4