The Lee’s Summit boys basketball team has made a living this year with an up-tempo style, winning games in the 60s, 70s and even a few in the 80s.
But don’t overlook the Tigers on defense, an area the team has bought into this year under first-year head coach Blake Little, and it was a big reason for a 51-42 win over Lee’s Summit North on Feb. 14.
It was just the second win of the season for the Tigers in which they didn’t score at least 59 points.
“You have to learn to win in different ways,” Little said. “Our MO has been to outscore people. To win and score 50 means we did it a different way.”
The second and third quarters proved to be the pivotal 16 minutes in the game.
The Broncos took a 13-11 lead after one quarter before Lee’s Summit dug in on the defensive end of the court. The Tigers were able to cut down on the Broncos’ penetration, and when North did get into the lane, a help defender was almost always there to force a turnover or a kick-out for a long jump shot.
North managed just four points in the second quarter and eight in the third, as it saw a two-point lead turn into a 14-point deficit.
“They made it difficult for us to run our offense,” North head coach Mike Hilbert said. “Their defensive effort made the difference tonight. … From three-point range we were two-of-19 and in the lane we were five-of-eight. We have to get more shots in the lane.”
That’s where that help defense came into play for the Tigers, something that has become a routine for the team throughout the year.
“We felt like we needed to pick the defense up,” Tiger junior Drew Lock said of the team’s attitude after the first quarter. “Backside help is big for us.”
Added Little, “If you watch our practices, we guard the ball and work on our backside rotations for the first hour. We’re getting to the point where we’re doing a good job rotating. We really did well in the second quarter. The second guy would drop down and get some steals.”
Some of those steals led to a key run late in the second quarter when the Tigers were able to get out in transition and score seven quick points to extend the lead to double digits. The lead would get as big as 16 in the third quarter before the Broncos made a late run, getting as close as five points late in the fourth.
“They mix up the pressure,” Little said of the North defense. “Ninety percent of the time they slowed us down, but that other 10 percent when we pushed the ball was the difference when we got (those) points.”
It’s been a solid first season for Little at the helm for the Tigers, as they sport a 15-5 record and are one game out of first place in the Suburban Conference Big Six standings. He knew he was inheriting a talented group of scorers coming into the season, so his main focus has been getting the team to make strides on defense.
“The difference (from last year to this year) has been our defense and the fact that we’ve come together,” point guard Blake Spellman said. “We’re like a family. This year we play together and share the ball.”
But playing together hasn’t just shown itself on offense.
“Last year’s team took nine charges … and after tonight now we’ve taken 38,” Little said. “That’s what I’m proud of. And we took a big one tonight. Jordan Bennett took that one (late in the game). He’s come a long way.”
And so have the Tigers, as their hopes for a conference title are still very much in play, something not many people may have seen coming this season.
If the Tigers were flying under the radar earlier in the season, chances are they aren’t anymore and they might be developing a bit of a target on their backs.
“We feel like there is,” Spellman said. “We like it. We welcome it.”
Added Lock, “We just hope it gets bigger.”