By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Greenwood Blue Jays don’t mind sharing the ball with each other, and it’s easy to see why.
Every player in Greenwood’s starting lineup can score – with range.
“We have five guys on the court that can all shoot and score,” said Greenwood junior Nic Burri. “Everyone can hit shots, so we just have to drive and kick.”
That style has carried Greenwood to a 16-5 record this season and a championship at this week’s Sparta Trojan Invitational.
Greenwood scored the game’s first 11 points and withstood Ava’s second-half comeback to win 51-45 on Saturday night in a matchup of state-ranked teams.
The Blue Jays never trailed in the game, although Ava pulled within five points in the fourth quarter.
“Ava’s a very good team, they gave us everything they had,” said Greenwood senior forward Ryan Gibbons, who scored a team-high 15. “We pulled that out because we played as a team. This entire tournament, we’ve played the best team basketball we have all season.
“The ball’s moving quick and everyone’s getting their opportunities. It’s been really fun this year.”
Scoring balance has been Greenwood’s calling card this season. The Blue Jays (No. 6-ranked in Class 3) feature five starters who average 10 or more points.
“That really helps,” said Greenwood coach Darren Taylor. “We don’t have anyone you can completely not guard.”
Greenwood jumped on Ava early with 11 unanswered points and never relinquished the lead.
Ava trailed 29-19 at halftime but chipped away at the deficit in the second half.
Andrew Dalton’s putback brought Ava within 36-31 in the fourth, but Greenwood responded with a Gibbons 3-pointer.
Dalton led Ava (No. 7-ranked in Class 4) with 28 points. He scored 17 in the second half to keep the Bears within reach.
“He’s tough. He’s very strong,” Burri said of Dalton. “But it was a fun battle.”
No other Ava player reached double figures.
Said Taylor: “We just had to do the best we could with Dalton and hope no one else catches fire.”
Tanner Jones’s three-point play put Greenwood up with 49-39 with 1:02 remaining. Jones finished with 12 points and Burri added 13 points.
Burri joined Gibbons and Pinegar on the all-tournament team.
Greenwood has won five straight games. The streak began with a wild 76-61 home win over Jefferson City on January 21.
The Blue Jays trailed by 25 midway through the third quarter.
“It showed them that they can play with really good teams,” Taylor said. “It gave them a little bit of confidence.”
Said Burri: “Ever since that Jeff City game, we’ve been on a roll.”
Ava (17-2 overall) suffered its first loss since falling to Republic in the Blue and Gold Tournament quarterfinals last month.
The Bears head into the bulk of their conference schedule, starting with a home game against Mountain Grove on Tuesday.
Greenwood has road games at Chadwick (Tuesday) and Strafford (Friday) next week.
“We’re playing as a team right now,” Taylor said. “We’re moving the ball well and sharing it. They don’t care who scores. If we can shore our defense up, we’ll be pretty tough going forward.”
Greenwood 51, Ava 45
Greenwood 18 11 6 16 — 51
Ava 10 9 8 18 — 45
Greenwood (16-5 overall) – Ryan Gibbons 15, Nic Burri 13, Tanner Jones 12, Tommy Pinegar 9, Collin Clark 2
Ava (17-2 overall) – Andrew Dalton 28, Isaac Dalton 9, Ethan Donley 4, Corey Heinlein 2, Carter Mahan 2