By Michael Cignoli (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
ROGERSVILLE — With four bona fide NCAA Division I prospects in its starting five, there is no doubt the Kickapoo boys basketball team has the talent needed for a deep run in the playoffs.
On Saturday, the Chiefs showed they have the determination that’s needed to go all the way.
Trailing reigning Class 3 state champion Cardinal Ritter by 12 at the half, Kickapoo opened the third quarter with a dozen consecutive points to pull even. Then, with Missouri State commit Isaac Haney and Mizzou signee Anton Brookshire leading the way, the Chiefs battled back from an eight-point deficit later in the quarter in a 64-62 statement victory at the Rogersville Shootout.
“We found out that we can fight,” said Haney, who finished with a game-high 24 points. “On paper, there’s a lot of talent. I think everyone knows that. We know that, but I don’t feel like in the first three games that talent had any fight. Tonight, the talent found its fight.”
To have any hope of winning the school’s first state championship since 2006, Kickapoo will need to win a lot of games against teams like this one. Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down high school athletics this spring, the Lions won the Class 3 state championship in dominant fashion, setting a Missouri record with a 56-point margin of victory in the title game.
The Lions moved up to Class 5 this season and have another athletic, talented lineup that firmly cements them as a title contender. Cardinal Ritter’s Luther Burden, who led the team with 21 points, is the No. 9 receiver and No. 48 overall football recruit in the Class of 2022, according to ESPN. He has committed to play at Oklahoma.
“I would put those guys up against anyone,” Haney said. “Their size, their athleticism, their length. They’re a heck of a team.”
Kickapoo relied heavily on its own future Division I athletes, as all but four of its 64 points were scored by Haney, Brookshire (21) or 6-foot-8 Mizzou commit Trevon Brazile (15).
Fellow D-I prospect Cameron Liggins had two points, as did 6-foot-6 sophomore Harrison Doennig.
The Chiefs entered the second quarter trailing by four, but hit just three field goals in the frame as Cardinal Ritter surged to a 38-26 halftime lead. The message in the locker room was simple.
“We had to get three stops to start the second half to give ourselves a chance,” Kickapoo coach Mitch McHenry said. “We did that, and then all of a sudden the lead went from 12 to five in the first couple minutes. Then it’s a new ball game.”
Brookshire, who led all scorers with 15 points in the second half, hit three straight lay-ups to open the third quarter, and Brazile made it a three-point game with a three-point play. Brookshire hit a pair of free throws to get the Chiefs within a point, and Haney tied it 38-38.
Cardinal Ritter pulled back ahead with an 8-0 run over the next two minutes, but Brazile had a pair of thunderous blocks late in the half that shifted momentum back in Kickapoo’s favor.
The first came with two minutes left in the quarter, as he prevented the Lions from taking another double-digit lead, and then unleashed a powerful dunk at the other end of the court. That touched off a 10-2 Kickapoo run, which ended when Brazile swatted away another shot, Brookshire collected the loose ball and quickly found Haney for a 3-pointer that tied it 48-48.
“We told each other just because we’re losing, it doesn’t mean we’re out of the game,” Brookshire said. “All we had to do was stay together and keep fighting. By us saying that to each other and us sticking together, I feel like that made us come out with the W.”
Kickapoo trailed by four points early in the fourth quarter, but rallied again with an 11-2 run for a 62-57 lead with 3:08 to go. Cardinal Ritter then came back to tie it 62-62 with 56.9 to play.
Brookshire hit a free throw to put the Chiefs up by a point with about 30 seconds to go, then came up with a huge steal after a Cardinal Ritter player collided with Kickapoo’s Carson Noel.
Haney split a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to two, and the Lions traveled on their next possession. That erased their chance at a buzzer-beater and sealed the win for Kickapoo.
Cardinal Ritter all-state standout Mario Fleming had 10 points before the break, but the Chiefs held him scoreless in the entire second half.
“They cranked their energy up in the first half and we didn’t match it,” McHenry said. “In the second half, I felt like we took it to them the whole second half and it started with our leaders — Isaac and Anton — setting the tone in that second half and just playing and battling and being competitive. They did a great job.”
The win also helped Kickapoo bounce back from last Saturday’s loss to Greenwood, in which five-star recruit Aminu Mohammed rallied Greenwood from a 14-point second-half deficit to beat the Chiefs and win the Willard Tournament championship. But with a significantly stronger second-half showing this week, Kickapoo may have laid the groundwork for an even bigger title.
“We were far from perfect, but we were able to do some things and make some adjustments and handle adversity, which we don’t always do,” McHenry said. “We did a great job of doing that tonight, which I’m proud of.”