Lee’s Summit North had never before left Lee’s Summit West’s gym a winner.
So, Broncos coach Mike Hilbert made sure to savor his squad’s hard-fought 80-74 Suburban Gold Conference victory Jan. 26 at the Titans.
But even as Hilbert, his team and a boisterous contingent of North students celebrated the milestone, he knew the rematch would be decidedly tougher.
“Obviously, they were short-handed a couple of kids and, when we play them again, it’s going to be a bigger challenge,” Hilbert said. “But tonight, we go out excited and happy.”
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Being short-handed has been commonplace lately for West, which lost its third straight game.
Senior guard Mario Goodrich was on another football recruiting trip. Reserve big man Malachi Butler missed a second straight game due to injury. West head coach Michael Schieber, who fell ill before the Titans’ Jan. 23 loss to Lee’s Summit, also remains at home recuperating.
Then, there’s Yor Anei, the Titans’ 6-foot-10 center and Oklahoma State signee, who was out of the lineup yet again because of an apparent disciplinary issue.
“This season has been real up and down; it’s been real difficult,” West assistant coach Keith Miller said. “It just seems like since Christmas we’ve had different kids playing different spots.”
Without Anei and Butler, West (13-4 overall, 3-2 Suburban Gold) became much smaller. The Titans of course still had 6-8 senior Christian Bishop, but they didn’t have as many big bodies to bang with North’s Elijah Farr.
Farr, a 6-8 senior, tallied 20 points and also was effective kicking the ball out to the Broncos’ deadly outside shooters —like Javaunte Hawkins, who hit five three-pointers and scored a team-high 28 points, and Logan Jenkins, who had three threes and 17 points.
“That’s our game plan every game,” Hilbert said. “We want Elijah to touch the ball. We want the ball to be driven to the middle of the court and then play off that. We were able to that enough tonight to come off with the win.”
Bishop scored nine of his 15 points in the first quarter, six of them on three straight dunks, but Hawkins and Jenkins each hit two threes before the first period ended with North (9-8, 2-4 Suburban Gold) leading 18-13.
West closed within 27-25 by halftime and trailed 36-33 before North took control with a 15-3 run midway through the third quarter. It started with a Farr bucket, and he also assisted on a Hawkins three, hit a putback after a Hawkins steal, and added an and-one as the Broncos surged to a 51-36 lead.
“Once our shooters get hot, they get hot and they keep hitting,” Farr said. “It’s just my job to work it inside and find them on the outside.”
North needed that cushion when West guard Richard Johnson caught fire from the field during the fourth quarter. Johnson, who had been mired in a recent shooting slump, exploded for 19 of his game-high 29 points during the final period with three threes and several drives to the rim.
Johnson pulled West within 68-65 with 2:12 left then made it a one-point game with a driving layup on the Titans’ next possession, but the Titans would get no closer as the Broncos made 12 of 14 free throws down the stretch.
“We hung in there, we battled, we fought back,” Miller said. “We challenged the kids to play harder.”
The bigger challenge for North should come Feb. 23, when it hosts West in the regular-season finale for both teams. Barring any unforeseen issues, the Titans will be back at full strength by then.
Hilbert wasn’t worrying about that just yet.
“I know the next time is going to be a war and a much more difficult task,” he said. “But for tonight, walking out of Lee’s Summit West with a win ... it’s a lot of fun.”