Columbia Hickman came into Wednesday night’s semifinal game against Lee’s Summit West in the 39th Annual Culver’s Classic with a nice and shiny 15-0 record and No. 1 spot in the state rankings.
But it was hard to tell that was the case after 32 minutes of basketball.
On this night it was the Titans that were the dominant team, taking some shine off those impressive Kewpie marks with a 72-55 victory in which they led from the start.
“They’re a great team,” Titans head coach Michael Schieber said of Hickman. “They just had one of those nights. I thought our kids played really well.
“… A lot of those kids make me look smart. The X’s and O’s are great, but it’s the Tommy’s and the Joe’s that win games. Those kids won this game.”
The Titans didn’t waste any time asserting themselves, as they forced the Kewpies to play catch-up by taking a 25-9 lead after one quarter.
Aside from a poor performance at the free-throw line, the Titans were a machine on the offensive end of the floor.
When the tempo kicked up a notch, West wasn’t afraid to get out and run with the Kewpies by getting transition baskets, as they were able to match the athleticism of the top team in the state.
But when they were able to break the full court pressure, they also showed a good deal of patience in the half court and repeatedly got the shot they wanted in the flow of the offense.
“This is the first time we’ve done a real good job of executing,” Schieber said. “We were able to find players in space, we got the ball in the paint and our transition offense was pretty good.”
Monte Harrison and Jarred Dixon attacked the basket to combine for 46 points, while Dale Brown and Thomas Ganaden controlled the paint against an undersized Kewpie squad.
And whenever Hickman started to get a little momentum, Harrison was there with a big-time dunk, Dixon would hit a layup or Ganaden would knock down a short jumper in the paint to start another Titan run.
“We never stopped being aggressive,” Schieber said. “We continued to go at them and we did it smart. That’s something we’ve been working on. It’s good to see the kids take that to heart.”
Part of that was due to Hickman picking up the pace once they got behind. But the further the Kewpies found themselves behind, the more they got away from much of an organized offense.
The Titans expected the Kewpies to use their athleticism to attack the rim, and while they gave up some easy layups, that wasn’t a continuous trend.
“The whole goal was to keep them out of the paint,” Schieber said. “When they did get in there, especially in the second half, we did a good job of contesting.”
Added Harrison, comparing the two offenses, “They hit tough shots. We knew they would hit shots but we just had to limit it a little bit. We definitely got better shots. They forced a lot of one-on-one.”
The win moved the Titans to 11-2 on the season and lands them in the championship game against Columbia Rock Bridge at 8:30 p.m. tonight.
This is the third tournament championship game for the Titans this year, and a win would give them a clean sweep in those games.
“This is just like my sophomore year when we were winning every tournament,” Harrison said. “But I don’t want to jinx it. We still have to play hard against Rock Bridge.”