By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
When Kickapoo played at Joplin in January the Chiefs led by two points at halftime and went on to suffer a four-point loss.
On Wednesday night in a Class 5 sectional at Webb City, the Chiefs led the Eagles by three points at the break.
This time, though, Kickapoo throttled Joplin in the second half and cruised to a 76-59 win in front of a hostile crowd.
“When we played them at their place I thought we played good for a half,” Kickapoo coach Mitch McHenry said. “I didn’t feel like we competed very well in the second half. In the second half of this game I thought our urgency, our focus, our intensity, our fight, I thought it was all the same if not up to another gear going into that third quarter which I think made a huge difference in the game, being able to come out in the second half the right way, building on the momentum we had and continuing to execute what we wanted to do.”
Kickapoo never trailed in the game. The Chiefs led 13-9 after a quarter and by as many as six points in the second before taking a 31-28 lead into the half.
The second half, and third quarter especially, was a different game.
Seniors Cary Ragan and Micah McIntire scored five quick points to prompt a Joplin timeout, and after Joplin sophomore Always Wright made a three pointer to keep the Eagles within five, the Chiefs ran away with it.
Kickapoo scored 12-unanswered points. Joplin missed shots on four-straight possessions, missed two free throws, then had three more scoreless possessions before finally making a free throw with 1:19 left to play.
When the third quarter was done, Kickapoo had outscored Joplin 20-6. And that wasn’t the end of it.
Already leading 51-34, Kickapoo senior Elijah Bridgers opened the fourth with a basket, Joplin missed two more free throws, then Ragan added a three-point play and junior Anton Brookshire scored to make it 58-34 with 6:49 left in the game.
That would be Kickapoo’s biggest lead of the game. The Chiefs matched it again with 5:59 remaining when a three-point play by junior Cameron Liggins made it 61-37.
“Our kids made plays,” McHenry said. “I don’t say anything at halftime that’s going to shock anybody. We had a game plan, we felt like if we could stick to the game plan and play our game we’d be successful. We were able to come out that third quarter and hit shots early and then we were able to get stops and I think that was a huge difference in that third quarter. We were getting a lot of stops, getting consecutive stops in a row and we were able to finish with points and possessions on the other end.”
And while Kickapoo was able to get stops, Joplin wasn’t. Especially when Liggins had the ball. He scored five points in the first quarter, 14 in the second and added 11 more in the second half to finish with a game-high 30 points.
“They came on a mission tonight and laid their ears back and made us guard out on the perimeter,” Joplin coach Jeff Hafer said. “Liggins obviously was the difference tonight. He was just tough for us to stop. Couldn’t keep him out of the paint and then offensively we were just a little lethargic tonight. They were playing downhill and we were not. That’s something that we’ve done all year. When you have a night like that against a good team it can get away from you. I felt like in the third quarter we tried to get it all back with one shot on about three or four possessions and they went down and converted into buckets and then the game gets opened up to a tough margin.”
Brookshire scored 15 points for the Chiefs, Ragan added 10 and Bridgers finished with nine.
Joplin was led by senior Dakarai Allen’s 17 points. Wright added 13 and senior Zach Westmoreland scored 12.
The Eagles finish with a 21-6 record.
Kickapoo, 19-9, will face Columbia Rock Bridge in Bolivar Saturday in the quarterfinals. The Bruins, 24-3, defeated Ozark 65-53 in two overtimes.