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Nixa lets one slip away against Kickapoo in contest Eagles controlled almost all night

NIXA'S ADAM MCKNIGHT makes a move to the bucket against Kickapoo on Wednesday.
NIXA'S ADAM MCKNIGHT makes a move to the bucket against Kickapoo on Wednesday.

SPRINGFIELD — Freshman phenom Adam McKnight is ahead of the customary pace toward eventually adding his name to Nixa’s list of its all-time great players. But every success story also includes adversity along the way, as he found out Wednesday.

A charging foul assessed against McKnight with :30 remaining turned around Nixa’s matchup with Kickapoo, allowing the Chiefs to take and make the last shot.

A 12-foot jumper by Kickapoo’s Reese Kimrey with :2.3 remaining handed the Eagles a 54-52 defeat.

It was the Chiefs’ only lead all night.

Nixa was in position to hold for a final shot, before McKnight was called for charging on his drive to the bucket.

“If we had an open layup, take it. If not, take it out for the last shot,” McKnight said of the Eagles’ mindset upon taking possession of the ball with 1:25 remaining. “I thought there was a layup. But as soon as I went in the air, I saw (Kickapoo’s Jackson Shorter) start to take his charge formation. I tried to stop at the last second.”

If he could run the play over again, McKnight said he would stop himself before leaving his feet. 

“I’d probably pull up for a mid-range (jumper) or pull it out and make sure we get the last shot,” he said.

“It's a learning process for him and our team,” Nixa coach Brock Blansit said. “We’ve had a couple other games in which we’ve taken a 3 when we were trying to get a layup. You hate to take away a kid’s aggressiveness. But we're going to make sure next time we're in that position we get a layup or a better shot.”

Earlier, Nixa took the last shot of the first three quarters while holding the ball for the final :36 of the first quarter, the final :48 of the second quarter and the final :45 of the third quarter.

Nixa (5-2) was in complete control from the outset, jumping out to leads of 7-0, 11-2 and 39-30.

The Eagles were balanced offensively, with McKnight and center Jackson Cantwell thriving inside and guard Devon Kemp scoring from the perimeter.

Cantwell and McKnight helped Nixa rack up 24 points in the paint and 10 offensive rebounds.

Blansit often had both McKnight and Cantwell on the floor at the same time.

“I was happy with how our post guys played,” Blansit said. “Sometimes it's difficult to have two guys in there. It kind of clogs it up. But they're strong and physical, so it's an advantage for us.”

Cantwell gave Nixa its final lead at 52-50 with a spinning move to his left that set him up for an open right-handed layup. Blansit called it a big-time move in a big-time situation. Cantwell finished with a team-high 12 points.

“Cantwell was awesome,” Blansit said. “If we can get that out of him, we're going to have a very good season. I was so happy with him. He had some good post moves. He's been working hard at it in practice and is going to continue to get better.”

The 3-point shot typically has told the tale in past Nixa-Kickapoo contests. Who could forget the Eagles making  10 of their first 12 3-pointers against the Chiefs in the teams' regular-season meeting last year.

But this time around the teamed combined for a modest 12 3-pointers.  Nixa was 6-of-13 beyond the arc and the Chiefs 6-of-17.

Just two weeks ago, the Eagles attempted 23 3-pointers (shooting 5-for-23) in a loss to Bentonville.

The only hot hand from downtown for either side was Kemp. He swished a trio of 3s while emerging from a mini-slump.

“I got in the gym with my Dad,” Kemp said. “I practiced on my form because I knew this is a big game and (the coaches) were going to need me to hit a couple shots.”

Nixa was up 44-39, before being outscored 15-8 down the stretch. The Eagles’ only points over the final three minutes came on Cantwell’s aforementioned spinning layup.

“We played well in spurts. But we went on a dry stretch and (Kickapoo) got themselves back in it,” Blansit said. “There were a handful of defensive possessions in which we kind of let up. They would set one screen and get a layup. We can't allow that. We have to make sure we have help-defense.”

The refs obviously goofed by not waving off a Kickapoo 3 early in the fourth quarter that bounced high off the rim and hit a strap attached from the ceiling to the backboard.

Otherwise, the officiating crew was stellar and allowed the players to play. 

Kimrey’s game-winner saw him bring the ball upcourt against tight defense that included a couple bumps by Kemp. Kimrey freed himself near the top of the key after a bit of contact in which his right arm hit Kemp in the chest. No whistle blew as Kemp fell to the floor.

“Reese does a good job of creating space without throwing his arm out,” Blansit said.

“Refs aren't going to see stuff, that's going to happen,” Kemp said. “That was the type of night it was. Sometimes, they let you play, sometimes you have eight or nine fouls. You can't complain about it and have to move on.”

Kimrey, a sophomore, scored a game-high 15 points.

“Last year, we matched up against each other a couple times,” Kemp said. “This was the first true matchup I've had against him. He's a good player.” 

Kickapoo has won 14 of the last 17 games in the teams’ storied series.

“Losing stinks, I don't care if it's Kickapoo or whoever it might be,” Blansit said. “If we played them 10 times, it would probably go down to the wire just about every time. 

“There's no reason to feel sorry for ourselves," he added. "I'm proud of the guys' effort and we’re going to get better. This is good for us. We're going to play several games like this.”

"I'd much rather beat them later on," Kemp said. "It's good for us to lose to them now because we'll know what we're looking at from them in Districts. Now we're trying to get revenge."