JOPLIN — Kickapoo’s relentless barrage of 3-pointers Wednesday was such that Ozark’s Ethan Whatley was surprised the Chiefs didn’t have more than 16 3-pointers.
“That’s a ton, especially when you’re on the other end of it. It felt like 100,” Whatley said.
Likewise, the Tigers’ Colton Ballard was surprised when Kickapoo’s Brayden Shorter missed, while watching him swish eight 3-pointers.
“When he missed a shot, I told the ref, ‘Wow, he missed one,’” Ballard said.
No. 2 seed Kickapoo beating No. 3 Ozark in a Class 5 District 6 semifinal obviously wasn’t considered a surprise. But the Chiefs winning by a 35-point margin, 88-53, had to rate as a surprise, if not a shock.
Back before Christmas, Kickapoo won at home versus Ozark by only six points, 68-62. The Tigers’ Greydon Miller scored 16 points in that contest.
This time around, Miller was out with mono and Ozark couldn’t keep pace offensively with the Chiefs. Kickapoo outscored the Tigers 48-12 from 3-point land.
The Chiefs jumped on top 16-3 and never let up.
They had 11 3-pointers in the first half. Shorter made five treys in the second quarter.
“I couldn’t believe it. Every one of them contributed with a 3-ball,” Ballard said. “It was too much.”
“When you’re hitting like that, it’s hard to stay with them,” Ozark coach Mark Schweitzer said. “They’re playing really well, you’ve just got to tip your cap.
“We were trying to limit their transition buckets because that’s how they beat us in the first game,” he added. “They beat us in the paint. So, we were trying to stop the ball from getting to the paint. Then, they shot from the outside and beat us that way. Pick your poison with them.”
The last time Schweitzer and Ozark fans saw someone shoot the 3 like Shorter did was former Tigers great Quinn Nelson.
“Shorter was a difference maker,” Schweitzer said. “He was unstoppable tonight. We had good defense on him and he just stepped further out and kept hitting. When the bucket gets big for someone like him, it’s hard to stop him. He’s a great player and was on tonight.”
In addition to Kickapoo’s shooting, tempers were hot on a couple occasions. The referees tried to let the players play by calling a modest 24 fouls all game. But that seemed to lead to extra physical activity.
In the first half, Kickapoo’s Zaide Lowery pushed Ballard back a couple steps during a break in the action. No foul was called.
In the third quarter, Lowery emerged from a scrum under the Ozark basket with the ball after after a whistle blew. He promptly walked to center-court and twice slammed the ball off the floor with enough authority it bounced well above his head.
Slamming the ball to the floor has been an automatic technical foul since James Naismith first put up a peach basket. But the refs let Lowery be. No technical was called.
Whistles did blow a few seconds later, after Whatley pushed Lowery. That prompted Kickapoo’s Matthew Jones to run toward Whatley and shove him. Both players were assessed a technical.
The scene could have got ugly very easily and very quickly. But cooler heads prevailed.
If the Chiefs had any ejections, they would have been short-handed for their District final matchup with Nixa on Friday.
“It’s going to be a heck of a ball game between those two Friday,” Schweitzer said.
Whatley, who joined Ozark’s 1,000-point club earlier this season, had 12 points in his finale. Another senior, Tyler Harmon, topped the Tigers with 18 points.
They were among a group of nine seniors for Ozark (20-8) this season.
“A lot of coaches wouldn’t keep nine kids from a senior class when you know you can’t play all of them,” Schweitzer said. “I did because they are great kids. We’ve had six years of knowing them. I love them to death.”
“We’re very close, that’s why he kept all of us,” Ballard said. “We did everything for each other. We played for each other. It’s amazing to make those memories. It’s sad it has to end. But I’m glad I helped make those memories.”
“Best friends for life, I’d doing anything for them,” Whatley said. “They know that and I know they’d do anything for me. When I look back on my four years (of high school), I’m going to smile because I know I made some great friends.”
OZARK (53) — J. Whatley 2 3-4 7, Harmon 6 4-6 18, C. Ballard 3 1-2 8, E. Whatley 5 1-2 12, Easley 2 0-0 4, Wright 2 0-0 4, G. Ballard 0 0-2 0.
KICKAPOO (88) — Lowery 6 0-0 14, Jones 1 0-0 3, Oetting 1 0-0 2, Robinson 6 2-2 17, Noel 3 0-0 6, Keisker 3 0-0 9, Doennig 2 2-2 6, B. Shorter 10 0-0 27, J. Shorter 1 2-5 4.
Ozark 12 6 27 8 - 53
Kickapoo 23 23 29 14 - 88
3-point goals - B. Shorter 7, Robinson 3, Keisker 3, Harmon 2, Lowery 2, E. Whatley, Jones, C. Ballard.