Jefferson City boys basketball coach Blair Thompson has praised his team's effort all season.
And while the outcome didn't favor the Jays on Tuesday night, that didn't change.
Jefferson City let a five-point lead slip away in the final minute as sixth-ranked Hickman rallied back to claim a 69-68 victory against the Jays in overtime at Fleming Fieldhouse.
"I love the way our guys battle every night," Thompson said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing. They show up, play hard, and we give ourselves a chance to win these types of games."
It seemed like all the momentum was on the Jays' side when O.G. Anunoby threw down his third dunk of the game to give Jefferson City a 68-63 lead with 1:02 remaining in the extra period.
It didn't last.
Chris Clark responded with a deep 3-pointer and Douglas Johnson knocked down a pair of free throws following a Jays turnover to tie the game at 68 with 50.9 to play.
But Jefferson City, which missed its first attempt at a game-winner at the end of regulation, still had a chance to knock off the Kewpies (19-2).
Instead, the Jays turned the ball over and Clark was fouled with 3.4 seconds on the breakaway. The 6-foot-3 senior missed his first free-throw attempt, but sank the second to give Hickman a one-point advantage.
That's all the Kewpies needed.
"I wouldn't say we let it slip away," Thompson said. "I think we had opportunities to win it. It's just a good basketball game with two good teams going at it and doing what they do best."
Jake White scored 23 points, while Anunoby added 18 and Darion Jones chipped in with 15 to lead Jefferson City (13-8).
The Jays had a chance to win it in regulation, but Anunoby's attempt from the middle of the lane didn't fall as Jefferson City found itself playing in overtime for the fifth time this season.
The Jays controlled the tempo early in the extra period as Anunoby knocked down a three on Jefferson CIty's first possession and Jones followed with a pair of free throws with 2:35 to play.
"We started the overtime strong," Thompson said. "We came out, had two good possessions to start it - got what we wanted there. Felt pretty good about that."
The Kewpies, whose two losses have come to ranked teams in Class 5, went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line in overtime to keep it close and eventually hand the Jays their third loss in 12 games.
"They're a good team and they make it awfully tough on you as far as attacking off the dribble," Thompson said. "They found a way to get to the free throw line and got back in it."
Jimmy Whitt scored a game-high 25 points, while Douglas Johnson added 23 and Clark chipped in with 10 to lead Hickman, which led by as many as nine points early in the first half.
Johnson hit two 3s to open up the second quarter and Whitt capped off a 10-1 run with a putback to give the Kewpies a 24-15 lead with 5:53 left in the period.
White responded for Jefferson City by scoring six points that was part of an 8-3 surge to bring the Jays within two, but Jordan Jones hit a jumper at the buzzer to give Hickman a 33-29 halftime lead.
"We've been in that spot a few times this year where we've looked up and found ourselves in a bit of a hole," Thompson said. "In big games, sometimes you come out and maybe push a little too hard. I thought we did that a few times.
"As we settled down offensively and started to sure things up defensively, we found a way to craw back in it."
Jefferson City came out strong in the third.
Anunoby opened the period with a dunk, White followed with a 3, and Jones added a bucket to cap off a 7-0 run that gave the Jays a 36-33 lead with 6:32 to play in the frame.
Jefferson City maintained the lead until Whitt knocked down a jumper to tie the game at 50 entering the final period.
Hickman controlled the fourth quarter, but Anunboy got a bucket to fall in the paint to tie the game at 59 with 57 seconds remaining in regulation.
Neither team got a bucket after that.
"I can't fault our effort," Thompson said. "We gave ourselves plenty of opportunities to win - we had plenty of chances."