By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Entering Wednesday night’s Class 2 District 10 tournament semifinals, Greenwood wasn’t feeling the normal comforts of a No. 1 seed.
The Blue Jays faced a tough task: beat upset-minded Spokane, on the Owls’ home floor, a month after losing to them in Springfield.
“I think I’d be lying if I said no,” said Greenwood coach Darren Taylor. “I felt extra pressure, personally, because I know how good they (Spokane) are and how well they’re coached. I knew it’d be tough.”
The Blue Jays stayed cool under pressure.
Behind a trademark performance from sophomore star Aminu Mohammed, Greenwood dominated the second half and pulled away for a 76-44 win over the host and 4-seed Owls.
The outcome helped Greenwood avenge a 67-65 home loss to Spokane on Jan. 10.
“It’s one thing to lose to them at home, but then have to play them here and it’s win or go home… that’s a big challenge,” said Greenwood senior John Sharp, who had five steals and drew three charges on defense.
Greenwood’s won 12 straight games since losing to Spokane. Mohammed finished with 38 points and 13 rebounds in the rematch. Garrett Litherland added 15 points.
Taylor credited his players for an unselfish playing style.
“We shared the basketball really well tonight,” Taylor said. “When somebody was open, they were getting the ball.”
Greenwood (24-3 overall) faces Blue Eye (20-6 overall) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Spokane in the boys’ finals. Blue Eye and Spokane precede at 6 p.m. in the girls’ finals.
The Blue Jays will be going for their second district title in three years.
Greenwood significantly limited its turnovers the second time around against Spokane. Taylor estimated the Blue Jays committed 20-to-25 turnovers in first meeting.
“That was very uncharacteristic of us,” Taylor said. “We don’t turn it over that much.”
On Wednesday night, Greenwood broke the game open with a 46-point second half. The Blue Jays’ eight-point halftime lead swelled to 21 entering the fourth quarter.
“We did a much better job containing Aminu (in the first game) and we forced him into, about, 10 or 11 turnovers,” said Spokane coach Kyle Johnson. “Tonight, he took care of (the ball) and did what he was supposed to do. We couldn’t get them to make too many mistakes with the ball.”
Johnson said he was pleased with Spokane’s first-half defense. But as Greenwood pulled away in the second half, the Owls were forced to go to a high-risk, high-reward defense.
“We had to get out of what we wanted to do and let (Aminu) roam, and that’s not something you want to do with a player like him. Ideally, you want someone on him when he crosses half-court,” Johnson said. “We had to go to traps and presses and (Greenwood) got past them.”
Greenwood overcame a scary moment in the third quarter when Mohammed was fouled on a layup attempt. He hobbled off the court with a potential ankle injury but returned a few minutes later.
Spokane couldn’t cut into the deficit with Mohammed briefly out of the game.
Greenwood stymied the Owls with a trapping, full-court press.
“We’ve been working on defense all year,” Sharp said. “This week, we’ve been working on different presses. Our team doesn’t get very tired. We go full tilt until that final buzzer.”
Spokane’s lone senior, Isaiah Bean, had 13 points.
Spokane finishes 14-12 overall. The Owls were 4-8 midway through their season.
“To come back and finish with a winning record, that’s an accomplishment,” Johnson said. (The turnaround) started with Bean. He led by example.”
Greenwood 76, Spokane 44
Spokane 12 10 10 12 – 44
Greenwood 14 16 23 23 – 76
Spokane (14-12 overall) – Isaiah Bean 13, Zayne Gale 13, Grant Stewart 8, Doug Gold 4, Jackson Bray 2, Daniel Newell 2
Greenwood (24-3 overall) – Aminu Mohammed 38, Garrett Litherland 15, Tommy Pinegar 12, John Sharp 4, Grant Harper 4, Cooper Clark 3