Suddenly and already, Adam McKnight has emerged as one of the frontrunners for the COC Player Of the Year award.
On a night contenders and pretenders for the COC’s top individual honor separated themselves, McKnight added to his candidacy profile.
The Nixa freshman forward poured in a game-high 21 points in the Eagles’ 73-60 triumph versus Carthage on Friday.
“That's a big goal of mine,” McKnight said of the POY award.
With Nixa a bit prone to the upset while lacking a killer instinct, McKnight was his usual aggressive, assertive self. He was the Eagles’ only player to reach double-figure scoring, although the winners held a double-digit lead a good portion of the night.
Nixa (16-5 overall and 5-0 in the COC) upped its COC winning streak to 38 games.
The Eagles haven’t lost a COC game since falling to Ozark Feb, 4, 2020. That was a time, prior to COVID, when some of Nixa’s names to know were Josh Mason and Kaleb Wofford.
McKnight was in the fifth grade when Nixa’s streak started. He’s been in attendance more often than not for the Eagles’ 38 wins.
“I've gone to most every game since I was a young kid,” said McKnight, whose mother, Karen, was Nixa’s A.D. from 2007-2013. “I’ve been around here quite a bit. Home games and the away games, too. I've always been a Nixa basketball guy.”
McKnight’s favorite player during his formative years was 2022 Nixa grad Jaret Nelson. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Nelson was a strong, athletic power forward much like McKnight.
“We are pretty similar,” McKnight said. “I never got to talk to him, but looked up to him.”
McKnight made a play Friday that was reminiscent of the exceptional athleticism Nelson showed. As Nixa applied full-court pressure in the third quarter, he made an incredible steal of a Carthage pass at mid-court. With both of his feet off the floor, McKnight reached above and behind him with his right arm fully stretched to corral the ball one-handed and tip it to Bryce Foster.
McKnight is a touted quarterback prospect who played tight end in varsity games last fall. With the hops and hands he showed Friday, he could be quite a weapon catcing the pigskin, if he isn't throwing it.
“They had burned us deep a couple times, so I made sure I looked back and sure enough (the Carthage in-bounds passer) threw it,” McKnight said of his steal. “I saw the ball was going to be a little high. I timed it up and went up and grabbed it. It was almost like a rebound or a (catching) a pass in football.”
Like Nelson, McKnight has slumped shooting free throws, being barely above break-even. However, he was a much-welcomed 7-of-8 shooting freebies Friday.
“I'm going to be honest, free throws have been a struggle,” McKnight said. “(I’ve usually shot) 70 percent or higher. I haven't been an inconsistent free-throw shooter. I've been pretty good. But this year has been a setback.
"This game built my confidence back up,” he added. “It showed what I know I can do. I've been trying to get in the gym to build myself back up. I feel like I'm building my confidence and settling down. I'm glad and hope that continues. I’m going to need (free throws) later in the season.”
Nixa outscored Carthage 19-8 at the free-throw line.
With an assist from Nixa’s backcourt, McKnight got the best of one of the COC POY contenders in Carthage guard Justin Ray. The Eagles held Ray to three points in the first half, before he broke loose for four 3-point goals in the fourth quarter to finish with 19 points.
The early favorite for the COC POY was Republic guard Brenley Hagewood. But he had just nine points in Republic’s 77-65 overtime loss to Webb City on Friday and the Tigers are now 2-3 in the league.
A showdown is on the horizon, with Nixa visiting Webb City next Friday. Both the COC championship and the COC POY could be on the line. The Cardinals (16-5 and 5-0) feature Barron Duda, who is averaging 22 points and six rebounds a game.
Nixa also plays next week at home Monday against Parkview (13-8) and at Willard (14-8 and 3-2) on Tuesday.