In his first year at the helm, Tony Phillips has been on a mission to change the culture of a Jefferson City boys basketball program that has notched just three winning seasons in the past 10 years.
Step 1 of Phillips’s process for the Jays? Teaching them to not only win games, but close them. From that standpoint, Friday was another step in the right direction.
It wasn’t the prettiest of triumphs, but Jefferson City managed to build an early lead and then stave off a late Carl Junction comeback to secure a 70-62 win in the consolation semifinals of the Kaminsky Classic.
Hot first-half shooting allowed the Jays to build an advantage to as many as 16 points before intermission, and timely defense down the stretch enabled them to put the game on ice.
“As much as I harp on our guys about game stuff, they’ve already exceeded my expectations for the year because we’re getting better and starting to show signs that we can win at a high level,” Phillips said. “There’s still work to be done, obviously. When we’re good, we’re really good — we showed that in the Joplin game (Thursday). But then we’ll have two- or three-minute stretches where we’re not very good. So we have to decide who we want to be. If we keep doing things like that, we’ll be a .500 ball club. If we fix those things, we’ll be a contender.”
The win advanced Jefferson City to today’s fifth-place game to take on Webb City. However, the Jays opted to not play in the game and departed from Joplin on Friday night to avoid looming winter storms in the Jefferson City area.
Three good quarters by the Jays (6-6) were almost spoiled by a Carl Junction surge in the fourth. After facing a 14-point deficit at the end of the third, the Bulldogs (3-4) used a 14-3 run to make it a three-point game, 61-58, with 1:55 remaining.
Carl Junction limited the Jays to just 3-of-10 shooting in the fourth as it made its comeback bid.
“I thought today we played with intensity — kind of the opposite of what we showed in our loss to Francis Howell (on Thursday),” Carl Junction coach Kyle Williams said. “I thought Jeff City made a lot of shots in the first half. So credit them for putting us in a hole in that first half. But our kids didn’t quit, and they didn’t look like they were tired or dragging late in the game.”
But after Trentyn Lehman cashed in a pair of charities to trim the deficit to three, the Bulldogs’ surge ran out of steam. The team made just one of its final six shots from the floor and added one free throw as Jefferson City closed on an 8-4 run.
“We’re happy with the win, but we know we have to finish these games better,” Phillips said. “That just goes back to the focus thing. When we struggle, it’s not that we’re not shooting it well or not trying enough on defense. It’s that we don’t have the right people taking the right shots on one end and we’re making mental mistakes on the other.”
“If we make a few more from the free-throw line and don’t miss some of the bunnies that we did, then we probably win that ballgame,” Williams said. “But I was proud of the intensity we played with to finish the game out. We kind of hang our hat on the fact that we’re pretty tough, we play hard and we’re decent defensively. We still give up some easy buckets at times, but like I said, we don’t ever quit and we show flashes that we could be really good. We just have to be a little more consistent.”
After shooting nearly 54 percent from the floor in the first half, the Jays finished at 46 percent shooting and were led by Brennan Jeffries, who scored 26 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, 10-of-12 shooting from the charity stripe and added five assists. Kaidyn Johnson made six of his 10 shots and finished with 14 points.
For Carl Junction, Isaac Hoberecht paced the scoring with 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the floor and 6-of-11 shooting from beyond the 3-point line. Trentyn Lehman had 10 makes from the foul line and tallied 17 points.
WEBB CITY 74, JOPLIN B 57
Terrell Kabala and Tanner Rogers led the Webb City offense with 19 and 15 points, respectively, to aid the Cardinals in a victory over the Joplin junior varsity in the second consolation semifinal.
Neither team will take part in today's games.
Kabala, a 6-foot senior guard and college signee for NCAA Division II Arkansas-Fort Smith, scored 12 of his 19 points in the first half and finished with an 8-of-14 shooting clip from the floor with six rebounds and four assists. Rogers shot 5-of-5 from the floor and was a perfect 5-of-5 from the charity stripe.
The Cardinals (3-5) scored 44 of their 74 points in the paint and 29 off Eagles turnovers.
Two Joplin players finished in double figures as Carson Wampler and Fielding Campbell tallied 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Webb City led by as many as 22 points.