By Chris Parker
Kickapoo closed out the Springfield R12 Winter Classic with an emphatic 69-44 win over Greenwood.
It was evident that Kickapoo wanted this game from the start after falling to the Blue Jays last year in the Blue & Gold Tournament and earlier this season in the Willard Basketball Classic title game.
“It’s round three for most of these kids with them (Greenwood). The first two games we battled hard against them the last couple of years and didn’t get the result we wanted. (It’s the) third day of the tournament and you aren’t playing for a championship…so you never know never know how you are going to respond on that third day,” Kickapoo head coach Mitch McHenry said. “As a coach you would like your kids to just focus and play the right way and be locked in, but you are never sure on that third day when you are not playing for a championship. I was really proud of our kids. They were locked in. It was important to them. They were focused. We talked about that we have to put four quarters together because we haven’t been putting four quarters together. We played pretty good for a few quarters against Hartville (on Thursday) and then had a big time letdown in one of those quarters, and you can’t do that against really good teams. We knew we had to put 32 minutes together and I thought we did a pretty good job doing that.”
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a while because they (Greenwood) beat us twice,” Kickapoo’s Cam Liggins said. “I felt like we played good as a team. It was a good team effort. It’s a win. I’m excited.”
Kickapoo was on from the start of the game. Greenwood opened the scoring with a free throw before Kickapoo answered with an 11-0 run to take an 11-1 lead.
The Chiefs closed out the first quarter with a commanding 20-5 lead.
Greenwood was hampered by foul trouble throughout the game. Aminu Mohammed picked up three first quarter fouls and did not play in the second quarter. Greenwood played Kickapoo close without Mohammed only losing the second quarter by two points with an 18-16 margin, which sent Kickapoo into the break up 38-21.
Greenwood’s Victory Naboya picked up four first half fouls and would not see the court in the third quarter. The Blue Jays showed resiliency in the third quarter by cutting Kickapoo’s lead down to 10 at 49-39.
Kickapoo responded to the Greenwood run in a big way.
After a Grant Harper layup cut Kickapoo’s lead to eight points at 49-41 to open the fourth quarter, Kickapoo put the game away with a 20-0 run to take a 69-41 lead with 90 seconds left in the game.
The 20-0 run came via a balanced team effort with Liggins and Trevon Brazile scoring six points, Isaac Haney and Harrison Doennig adding in three points and Anton Brookshire scored two points with four assists.
This kind of team effort is something the Chiefs have been working towards all season.
“We got some things rolling as a team. Some things that we’ve talked about finally translated to the floor,” Haney said. “I was just happy to see the way that we clicked as a team finally.”
While the game was truly a team effort for Kickapoo, Liggins broke out in a big way with a team-high 23 points and 14 rebounds playing 30 of 32 minutes.
“It looked like the Cam that we had at the end of February and beginning of March when we made our postseason run (last season) when he was he was playing at a high level,” McHenry said. “That’s what it reminded me of throughout. And not just shooting the ball. It’s easy to look at the points. He was all over the place. He rebounded at a high level. He defended at a very high level. He moved well on offense and made some good passes. It is the Cam Liggins we are capable of getting every single night. It was nice to see him play with some confidence because I think he’s been missing some shots lately and not playing with a ton of confidence. He’s a really, really good player. He did a lot of great things with us down the stretch last year. He is going to be an important player down the stretch this year also.”
Haney finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds. Brazile scored 12 points with five rebounds. Brookshire was strong across the board with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
Greenwood was led by Tommy Pinegar’s 12 points and Kaden Stuckey’s 11 points. Aminu Mohammed scored just four points while playing just 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
Kickapoo will have to re-focus quickly with a road game at Nixa looming on Tuesday.
“We still have to humble ourselves. We still have a long season to go,” Liggins said. “If we just keep playing as a team and keep humbling ourselves, we will be good.”
Greenwood will look to regroup after back-to-back losses with a game at home against Viola (Ark.) looming on Wednesday.