By Michael Cignoli (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — As early baskets continued to fall for Parkview on Thursday, coach Landon Cornish thought of one of team’s most recent appearances in the Tournament of Champions.
There was a point in the second half of that 2019 game against Rainier Beach, the coach recalled, where the Vikings hit a 3-pointer to take the lead. Falling behind the locals seemed to awaken the national powerhouse, which promptly rolled to a 29-point victory.
So as the Vikings raced out a 10-point lead against nationally ranked Sierra Canyon — with its four Division I commits, plus the son of the most famous basketball player on the planet — there was a feeling that a similar comeback might only be a few moments away.
“We get up (by) 10 there and I think they realized ‘Shoot, we’re gonna have to play,'” Cornish said. “‘We’re going to have to really start getting after it.’ And they turned up the pressure.”
This group of Vikings held the lead through halftime, but the Trailblazers overwhelmed them in the second half and ran away with a 63-46 victory at JQH Arena. The California high school will face Whitney Young of Chicago in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.
Parkview will face New Madrid County Central in a consolation game at 4:30 p.m.
“We played extremely hard,” Cornish said. “I thought we did a lot of really good things. They’re really, really long. Really physical. It wasn’t like we weren’t trying to get some of those rebounds or trying to break that press. That’s been the toughest press we’re going to see, but we handled it. The guys stayed together. Even when things went bad, got on a little bit of a run there, but we had the lead at the half and we competed. I’m really, really proud of our guys.”
The Vikings made four of their first five 3-pointers to take a 16-6 lead with 2:33 to go in the opening quarter, but Sierra Canyon closed out the frame with a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to one.
Parkview held the Trailblazers to just 12-of-28 shooting (42.9 percent) in the first half, which allowed the Vikings to enter the break with a 29-28 advantage. But Sierra Canyon’s press, led by 6-foot-9 Nebraska commit Kijani Wright, reached a new level in the second half and the Vikings shot just 27.3 percent from the field over the final 16 minutes as the Trailblazers surged.
“They took us out of everything that we were trying to do,” Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier said. “Shooting it and making shots allowed them to set their defense and play that 2-2-1, 1-2-1-1 back into different zones and slow us down. They did a great job of scouting us. I’m sure they scouted us and wanted to try to keep us out of the lane and slow us down from our fast-breaking style and they were able to do that at a very high level. We just keep coming.”
Wright finished with 16 points, many from under the basket. So did five-star UCLA commit Amari Bailey, who is the No. 2 recruit in the country. Ramel Lloyd Jr. (Nebraska) added 13 as the Trailblazers outscored Parkview 42-18 in the paint and held a 38-21 advantage on the boards.
“We play a tough schedule, but you cannot simulate that length and that speed,” Cornish said. “Passes that you think you’re gonna get through – and typically throughout the year do – aren’t. That’s just hard to explain. But I thought we adjusted and understood. We went to the ball. We went to it with two hands and attacked it. And that’s a tough press. I hope that we don’t see anything else like that this year. But if we do, we know that we can compete with it.”
There’s also nothing that can compete with the experience of competing in the Tournament of Champions – and, specifically, drawing Sierra Canyon in the first round. That gave the Vikings a chance to compete against Bronny James, son of NBA all-star and champion LeBron James.
The younger James finished with three points. The player he guarded, Brandon Corley, had six.
“Having Bronny guard me is just crazy,” Corley said. “I never thought I would play him.”
Corley hit a pair of 3-pointers during Parkview’s early surge, while TJ Hill hit a trio of treys. Hill and Shane Glass tied for the team lead with nine points, while Elijah Whitley added eight.
“We fought and it showed,” Whitley said. “Everybody underestimated us and didn’t expect none of this to happen for us, but we fought and we didn’t disappoint.”
Chevalier credited Parvkiew’s toughness throughout the game.
“We always play these national-level teams and sometimes we look over on the other side and see a smaller team and don’t think they’re going to be tough — and they were very tough,” Chevalier said. “And they executed and did the things they needed to do to make it tough for us.”
Ultimately, though, Sierra Canyon proved to be too much.
“Their length and just overall depth just continued to wear us out,” Cornish said. “We got a little bit tired there in the third quarter where they kept going in spurts. But it wasn’t like we just got hot and hit a couple early. We competed and played and stuck with them for a good amount of time. I’m really, really proud of them.”
PARKVIEW 16 13 8 9 — 46
SIERRA CANYON 15 13 18 17 — 63