Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
The Jefferson City boys basketball team didn’t get the end result it wanted Friday, failing to extend its four-game win streak. But at least the beginning was nice.
In commemoration of Senior Night, an all-senior lineup started the game for Jefferson City, scoring the first three points of the 54-45 loss to Miller Career Academy.
“They come to practice every day just like everybody else,” coach Blair Thompson said, “and they deserve a chance to run out there and hear their name called and start and get us off to a good start, and I thought they did that.
“… They work hard, they cheer when they’re not playing, and it’s fun to see them get excited and everybody get excited for them. In the end, it’s about more than just basketball to myself and these players, so it’s fun to see guys have that hard work pay off.”
Kent Uhlmann scored the game’s first points on a putback and Jacob Gourley added a free-throw to make it 3-0.
“It felt really good,” Gourley said of starting the game with all seniors. “I’m gonna miss it.”
Gourley, who starts on non-senior nights as well, made the most of his Senior Night, tying fellow senior Rhylin Spence for a team-high 12 points.
“He’s one of those unsung heroes of ours, a guy I’ve never had to ask to play harder,” Thompson said of Gourley. “He’ll give you everything he’s got, sacrifice his body, and he’s going to use every foul, he’s going to make every tough hustle play, and he’s never going to complain. He is a good example of what we look for in players. Just hard-nosed and team-oriented.”
The Jays’ early lead dissipated quickly, and the Phoenix responded with an 11-0 run as Jefferson City reverted to a more typical lineup. The Jays answered with a 10-0 run of their own, stretching across the first and second quarters. Jefferson City then built its lead to 22-16 on a bucket from senior Seth Stegeman, but Miller closed out the half with the first 12 points of a 14-0 run.
“We had big possessions where I think if we get a bucket, we grab momentum and maybe get something going there,” Thompson said. “We got some good looks we didn’t get to fall down and ended up giving up buckets on the other end, but it was there for the taking.”
Miller completed three and-1s during its end-of-half run.
“They were just finishing and they were just converting more there,” Gourley said. “We just weren’t there on defense, either.”
The Phoenix pushed its lead to double digits three times in the third quarter, but Jefferson City responded each time with a basket on the following possession. Still, the Jays entered the final quarter down nine and trailed by as many as 13 in the fourth.
A Spence putback got the Jays within seven with 1:47 to play, but that was as close as the rally would get.
The Jays shot 36 percent from the field (16-of-44) and took just nine free throws.
“We need to get better at playing against a zone and being aggressive,” Thompson said. “I think we get a little stagnant. It’s not the first game we’ve done that, where we just kind of stop moving and watch the ball.”
The Jays were without leading scorer Kamari Balton, who was sick, and Caleb Burruss remained out with an ankle injury.
“We just fell short,” Gourley said. “We didn’t have our whole team here, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. We didn’t all do what we needed to do today.”
Thompson expects to have Balton and Burruss back for the Jays’ next game, Friday against Rockhurst. The game is Jefferson City’s last of the regular season.
“You don’t want to go in (the playoffs) complacent or satisfied or thinking you’re better than you are,” Thompson said, “and I don’t think we were ever in danger of that, but this again is a reminder that we have stuff we need to work on. This was a winnable game tonight. We just had too many little things stack up on us that kept us from being able to do that.”