Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
After a 12-day break between games, the Jefferson City Jays came out of the gates a tad rusty Wednesday, turning it over on their first two possessions.
And then O.G. Anunoby took flight.
The senior, who was recognized before the game for reaching the 1,000-point plateau this season, threw down the first of his five dunks 71 seconds into the game and kick-started a 65-45 Senior Night defeat of Lebanon at Fleming Fieldhouse.
Seniors Anunoby, Isaac Roling, Devonte Jones and team manager Nick Anderson were honored before the final home game of their careers.
“I was hoping to make it as special as we could for our seniors and then play well on top of it,” Jays coach Blair Thompson said. “We have four good seniors that deserve every bit of recognition that they got tonight, and you just hope to send them out with a win. Fortunately we were able to do that.”
The Jays’ rough start didn’t last long. Anunoby’s dunk sparked a 8-3 run to start the game, and the Jays were able to build up a 10-point lead by the end of the quarter thanks to a reverse dunk by Anunoby with 0.2 seconds to play.
“I thought our effort was there, but fundamentally I thought we were a little bit (off),” Thompson said. “We were a little slow defensively. Offensively we weren’t quite as sharp as I think we were two weeks ago … but those are things it’s hard to simulate the speed in practice no matter how hard you try.”
Anunoby faced double teams from the Lebanon defense early on but the Indiana signee was able to create ball movement and find the open man.
“Any time that happens, we trust O.G. to make a good decision out of those double teams, and for the most part his entire career he has,” Thompson said. “He did some good things tonight with and even without the ball. I think of the most underappreciated aspect (of Anunoby’s game is) he can get other people involved, and he does that quite often for us.”
Double teams or not, Anunoby finished the first half with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The Jays entered the locker room with a 34-17 lead in hand.
Lebanon came out strong in the third quarter, however, and both teams managed just eight points in the third quarter. The teams made up for it in the fourth, scoring a combined 43 points.
Though the Jays didn’t expand much upon their first-half lead, they didn’t allow the Yellowjackets to crawl back, either.
“I thought (Lebanon) got a few more easy baskets in transition in that period of time, which probably ended up being the difference and the reason we weren’t able to extend the lead any more than we were,” Thompson said. “… Lebanon’s a good team. We didn’t expect a perfect game from our side, just a hard-played game, and I think we got that for the most part. There’s plenty to go back and clean.”
Anunoby hit all three of his second-half shots, including two 3s that sandwiched a Lebanon trey all within a 19-second span. He finished with 23 points and six rebounds, both game highs.
Fellow senior Jones chipped in six fourth-quarter points.
All told, 10 players scored for Jefferson City.
“A lot of people got to play today,” Thompson said. “That’s always a good thing. All these kids work real hard, and tonight there was an opportunity to slide a lot of guys in, and we did. It turned out well.
“We had some fun with it, but at the same time, we’re trying to get better in the process. No matter who’s out there, we’re trying to coach them up and see who plays well together, who can do what we’re asking them to, and that never stops, regardless of who’s out there.”
Overall, Thompson was pleased with his team’s performance coming off the long gap, as the Jays won their 13th game in 15 attempts.
“As a coach you worry about not only conditioning but just staying sharp, focused,” he said. “We’ve quietly seemed to win (13-of-15), and you don’t like a big period of days off in there. We’d like to keep playing and keep the momentum going, but we had to find a way to help it benefit us. We got to practice a lot, but it’s hard to simulate the speed of an actual game, and finally it was good to get out here and get up and down.”
The Jays (16-7) travel Friday to Rockhurst before beginning Class 5 District 10 tournament play Tuesday, when Jefferson City and Lebanon will face off again in Camdenton.
“Lebanon does some things that really challenged us,” Thompson said. “We got to get a look at them. Kind of like two teams feeling each other out, because we both know we’re playing for the money next Tuesday, so we’ll see how it goes when we finally get there.”