Jays fall to Hickman in district title game

COLUMBIA, Mo. — It’s tough enough to beat a high-school basketball team that boasts two future NCAA Division I players. It’s even harder when those two are playing to the best of their abilities.

Jefferson City knows that all too well. Hickman defeated the Jays for the fourth time this season Friday night, as Jimmy Whitt and Chris Clark led the Kewpies to a 65-51 victory in the Class 5 District 9 Tournament final at Rock Bridge High School.

“When those two guys are going for them, it gets tough,” Jefferson City coach Blair Thompson said. “They got going early and got us on our heels. We were playing catch-up all night.”

Whitt — a 6-foot-3 junior guard who’s already received offers from schools like Missouri, Colorado, Arkansas, Creighton and Wichita State — paced Hickman with 19 points. Clark, a Tennessee-Martin commit, added 18 points while going 7-of-8 from the field.

“We haven’t played against anybody nearly as good as Jimmy Whitt,” Thompson said. “Clark is really talented as well.”

The duo put on a show from the get-go. Whitt scored 12 points in the opening quarter, hitting all five of his shot attempts, while Clark added nine points. Both hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first eight minutes, as Hickman led 25-14 after one quarter.

“You’re just trying to play to their weaknesses, and really, Whitt has very few of those,” Thompson said. “Clark, we were comfortable with him shooting jump shots versus taking it to the rim. He stepped up and knocked down some open 3s early, which makes us have to close out harder and allows him to get to the rim.”

Clark threw down a vicious one-handed slam in the second quarter, but the Jays were able to get within 32-26 with 1:53 to go before halftime when Seth Stegeman scored off an offensive rebound. Hickman took a 36-27 edge into halftime.

Harold Robertson Jr. drained a 3 to open the second half to bring the Jays within six. That’s when the running-and-gunning Kewpies decided to go against their ways. Hickman stalled for almost three minutes, passing the ball around the perimeter near halfcourt without making much of an effort to score.

“If the best team in the state is stalling against us, I’m fine with that,” Thompson said. “Two quarters is a long time to hold the ball. If they want to stall in a one-possession game that’s perfect. … It did take me by surprise. If you get a team with those kind of weapons hanging on to the ball that early, I’ll take it.”

The Jays eventually got a stop on that possession, but couldn’t capitalize on the other end. Mason Murray drilled a 3-pointer and Clark added a layup to put the Kewpies up 41-30 with 2:50 left in the third. That was all part of a 13-2 Hickman run to end the frame with the Kewpies leading 49-32.

Jefferson City got no closer than 14 in the final period, with Hickman leading by as much as 57-37 with 5:40 left.

Hickman (24-2), ranked fourth, advances to take on third-ranked Waynesville (24-2) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Camdenton in a Class 5 sectional.

Robertson paced the Jays with 16 points in his final game for Jefferson City, connecting on 4-of-7 attempts from beyond the arc. Darion Jones added 12.

The fact the Jays (15-12) advanced to the district championship game is a feat within itself. Division I prospect O.G. Anunoby broke his right wrist the last time Jefferson City played Hickman on Feb. 11. The Jays went 2-3 the rest of the way, including topping Rock Bridge on Tuesday night in the district semifinals.

“When O.G. went down, it was a very big blow obviously,” Thompson said. “But instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, knowing nobody else is feeling sorry for us, we kind of rallied around each other and kept it going. We managed to squeak out some really big wins late in the season. I’m proud of these guys for that.”

Jefferson City says goodbye to four seniors — Robertson, Jones, Jake White and Lucas Theroff.

“I’m proud of all of them,” Thompson said. “These seniors personified everything we’ve talked about as far as character, work ethic, showing up places on time and doing the right thing. They represented our program well. … Obviously it would have been nice to get one more for them, but they can’t hang their heads about the effort they put forth all year.”

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