When Blue Springs last played Blue Springs South, the Wildcats frittered away a 10-point lead before winning at the buzzer.
This time, the Wildcats faced the opposite situation.
Down 13 points early in the third quarter, Blue Springs battled its way back in the fourth quarter and escaped with a 71-66 Suburban Big Six victory Friday night at South.
Blue Springs (12-8, 5-2 Big Six) appeared in trouble after South (10-10, 3-3) blitzed the Wildcats with a 28-point second quarter and turned a six-point deficit into an eight-point halftime lead that grew to 46-33 in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
But when the Wildcats turned up the defensive pressure, and sophomore guard Kyle Bruce remained hot from the floor and the free-throw line, the Jaguars’ lead melted away. Bruce led all scorers with a career-high 28 points.
“We gave up 28 points in the second quarter, and when we gave (the Wildcats) that number in the locker room they were frustrated,” Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said. “I thought they showed a lot of resiliency in the second half.”
Resiliency, and a withering full-court press helped Blue Springs turn the tide in the final two quarters. Twelve of South’s 21 turnovers came in that span, cooling what had been a red-hot shooting night for the Jaguars in general and Khayden Hooks in particular. Hooks scored 24 points, but only six of them came after halftime.
Blue Springs, meanwhile, chipped away at South’s lead and pulled within 54-53 by the end of the third period.
“We just wanted to get the ball out of Khayden Hook’s hands,” Jones said. “He’s such a dynamic player. The idea there wasn’t necessarily to get the steals; it was to get the ball out of his hands.”
When Braden Appelhans sank a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter for a 61-61 tie, it marked the first time the Wildcats hadn’t trailed since early in the second quarter. Bruce gave them the lead for good when he sank free throws to go up 65-64 with less than 3 minutes to play.
“I felt no pressure,” Bruce said after capping his career scoring high by going 6 of 6 from the line late in the fourth quarter. “We shoot over 100 free throws every day at practice.”
Blue Springs needed those free throws because South still had its chances. A Johnny George leaner in the lane made it 67-66 with 13 seconds left. Devin Tomlinson – whose last-second 3-pointer tied the first meeting on Jan. 31 before Mike Harrison’s buzzer-beater – just missed a three with the Jaguars down 69-66 with 5 seconds left.
“I think our decision making isn’t where it needs to be,” South coach Josh Smith said. “We weren’t very strong with the ball all night. You’re not going to turn the ball over 21 times and beat a quality opponent. It’s not going to happen.”
South looked much sharper in the second quarter as it put together an 18-3 run that turned a 19-13 deficit into a 35-28 lead. A blistering 11 of 14 from the field, the Jaguars got most of those points in transition. Hooks scored 15 of the Jaguars’ 28 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“We were taking quick threes they were turning into runouts on the other end,” Jones said. “The quicker we get a little more smart about things like that, those things will kind of go away. That’s kind of been hurting us lately.”
Appelhans finished with 17 points and Harrison added 16 for Blue Springs, which snapped a two-game losing streak in sweeping its crosstown rival. Ikenna Ezeogu, who averages 16 points a game, finished with eight after getting into early foul trouble.
George scored 16 points and Tomlinson finished with 13 for the Jaguars.