By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WILLARD – The Willard Classic boys’ championship game had all of the star power and plot twists you might find in a movie script – including a fantastic finish.
The Greenwood Bluejays used a 14-0 run to tie the game with 3:41 to play, and then took the lead as they held off the Kickapoo Chiefs for a 74-72 victory Saturday night.
The game featured players who have either signed with Division I programs or received offers all over the court.
And the star of the show on Saturday night was Greenwood’s Aminu Mohammed, a 5-star prospect who has offers from all across the nation, including four Power 5 conferences.
The Bluejays, who improved to 3-0, fell behind by 10 points on two occasions, the last time coming early in the fourth quarter when Isaac Haney’s 3-pointer put the Chiefs up 65-55. That is when Mohammed and his team went to work.
“Coming in, I knew the game was going to be what it is,” Mohammed said. “Come on. I mean, they’ve got more offensive players; I knew it was going to be like that. But you know, I told my guys the only way we’ve got a shot to win this game is to play defense. I knew that the game was going to be like that – they’re going to be up. We’ve got to fight to have a chance to win.
“So, I knew that coming in. We were down, but we never gave up. We kept fighting and we came out strong and we won this game.”
Greenwood started its run when Mohammed blocked a Kickapoo shot, then hit two free throws to pull within eight (65-57.) Kaden Stuckey scored on a putback and hit two free throws to make it a four-point game (65-61.) Mohammed followed that with a putback of his own, Kickapoo turned the ball over and Victory Naboya, who holds offers from SMU, Sacred Heart, Towson and Stony Brook, scored on a fast break to tie the game at 65 with 3:41 to go.
“Get stops, get stops and stop them from making those outside shots,” Mohammed said, “limit their possessions and stop them from making 3s. They were killing us out there from the 3-point line. We knew that they were going to do that.
“We’ve got a little bit of size in there. We’ve got 6-8 Victory Naboya, so I was like, we want them to take the ball in there so he can be able to block those shots, and we’re going to get up and run. That was the whole key, you know, but they were hitting the shots. But out of the four quarters, some of those things worked out.”
The Bluejays then took the lead on a Mohammed bucket and a dunk for a 69-65 advantage. But, Kickapoo wasn’t finished.
Three free throws and a couple of Greenwood turnovers pulled the Chiefs within one with 1:03 remaining, and the Bluejays called a timeout.
Mohammed came out of the timeout and scored from the left side (71-68) before Kickapoo’s Anton Brookshire, a Mizzou signee, hit a couple of free throws and then a right-handed layup to again pull the Chiefs within one (73-72) with 3.1 seconds left. Tommy Pinegar made the second of his two free throws for the final score (74-72), as the Bluejays denied Kickapoo’s final attempt.
“We made a couple of defensive adjustments that I think helped,” Greenwood coach Darren Taylor said. “And they missed some shots, which they didn’t miss very many in the first half. Then, they missed a couple there during that little run. I thought we executed a little better right there at the end.
“These guys have been in that situation several times and they don’t ever give up. I think we were down 10 in two different games in the Blue and Gold last year and we came back. So, I think they believe they have a chance all the time.”
Mohammed ended with a game-high 43 points, with Stuckey adding 10 for the Bluejays.
Haney, a Missouri State signee, led the Chiefs with 31 points, Brookshire added 20 and Cameron Liggins, who holds an offer from Western Illinois, scored 11.
“We had a game plan and did a pretty good job of sticking to that game plan,” Kickapoo coach Mitch McHenry said. “And then, in the most important stretch, we just did not execute the way we needed to execute. We took a couple quick shots, we had a couple breaks that didn’t go our way, but that stuff’s going to happen. What’s more frustrating is the things that we can control, like being in the right spot on defense, or getting in the right help, or going and getting a rebound on defense and not giving them a second chance.
“I thought it was a good game. I thought it was two good teams going at each other, it was back and forth. Obviously, we’re disappointed and not happy with the outcome, especially with having the lead most of the game. You’d like to finish those out with a team that’s experienced like ours. We expect to figure those out.”
Getting a tournament title and a victory over a team like Kickapoo is important, especially this early in the season, but could there be a rematch that includes Mohammed? Mohammed is weighing his options about potentially going to college in the new year.
“It’s pretty big,” Mohammed said of the win. “We’ll probably end up playing them again down the line. I’m probably going to be playing. I’m not certain yet. You know, the stuff about me leaving early, it’s for the best, but we’re not sure yet. Everything’s a probability right now. But, hopefully, I’ll play and still be with the guys and we get to get the win again. We’ve just got to keep working.”
GREENWOOD 74, KICKAPOO 72
GREENWOOD (3-0) – Grant Harper 7, Tommy Pinegar 1, Kaden Stuckey 10, Aminu Mohammed 43, Victory Naboya 8, Ryan Gibbons 3, Tanner Jones 2.
KICKAPOO (3-1) – Anton Brookshire 20, Cameron Liggins 13, Isaac Haney 29, Trevon Brazile 8, Carson Noel 2.
All-Tournament Team – Aminu Mohammed, Greenwood; Anton Brookshire, Kickapoo; Kyle Pock, Bolivar; Isaac Haney, Kickapoo; Trevon Brazile, Kickapoo; Kyle Scarbrough, Branson; Grant Harper, Greenwood; Haden Brown, Willard; Dane Foster, Sedalia-Smith Cotton; Cameron Liggins, Kickapoo.