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Jays fall to Ladue in Class 5 semifinal game

by Trevor Hahn | March 18, 2023 at 12:34 a.m.
Jefferson City’s Cole Heller crashes into Ladue’s Dwayne Foley Jr. during Friday’s Class 5 boys semifinal game at Hammons Student Center in Springfield. (Gordon Radford/Special to the News Tribune)

SPRINGFIELD -- The Jefferson City Jays fell behind the eight ball early and were never able to quite recover.

The Jays took a 2-0 lead but that would be their only lead of the game, as the Ladue Rams gained control with a 13-0 run and held on for a 69-56 victory Friday in the Class 5 semifinals at Hammons Student Center.

“Today just wasn’t our day,” Jefferson City coach Josh Buffington said. “We left a lot intangibles on the floor, which isn’t characteristic of our team. Those things hurt us and it got us playing from behind by too much for too long.”

 Gallery: Class 5 Boys Basketball Semifinal -- Jefferson City vs. Ladue

Cole Heller got Jefferson City on the board just more than 40 seconds in, as he collected a missed 3-point attempt by Tripp Maassen and put it back in for a layup.

Jack Steinbach answered for Ladue with a 3 off an offensive rebound by Jaylen Swinney and the Rams never looked back.

Ladue held Jefferson City scoreless for the next three minutes and continued to get open looks on the offensive end, as another Steinbach 3 capped the 13-0 run to give the Rams an 11-point lead with 3:45 left in the first quarter.

“We have struggled with that recently,” Buffington said. “Most of the season the first four minutes was in our favor, but lately here in the postseason we have struggled to get out of the gate.”

Jefferson City was able to respond with a 5-0 run on a bucket by Jordan Martin and a 3 from Steven Samuels to cut the deficit to 13-7.

But Ladue continued to hit open shots and took an 18-8 advantage into the second quarter.

“We saw the ball go in a lot in that first quarter, which was nice because it got us on a roll,” Steinbach said. “We haven’t seen a zone like that, so it was new to us. I think that was the best game we’ve played all year against a zone.”

Nelson Shinkle opened the second quarter with back-to-back layups, the second coming on a rip-drive between two defenders to get to his left hand to cut the lead down to 18-12 under a minute into the quarter.

The Jays continued to chip away and got it down to a four-point game on a fast-break layup by Martin, but the Rams answered again and were able to extend their lead back to nine on three separate occasions -- the last coming with their 32-23 lead at halftime.

Cleaning up the defensive glass was a problem for Jefferson City, as Ladue finished the first half out-rebounding the Jays 19-to-10, with 10 of its rebounds coming on the offensive end that accounted for 11 second-chance points.

“More than anything, we were giving up too many second and third chances,” Buffington said. “They hit six 3s in the first half, but four of them according to our stats came off of an offensive rebound, a loose ball or a tip out.”

The Rams continued to control the game to start the second half.

Ladue was able to break the Jays’ press with ball movement and it led to easy baskets near the rim, propelling the Rams to their biggest lead of the game at 45-29 with 3:36 left in the third.

“We handled their press, I thought for the most part, pretty well,” Ladue coach Chad Anderson said. “It’s kind of an unorthodox type of scheme, but we worked on it all week and our guys executed it.”

Jefferson City started its charge to follow, though.

The Jays went on a 7-0 run to get within single digits after a Martin layup, a Shinkle and-1 and a layup by Rowen Buffington off a Martin steal to make it 45-36.

Jefferson City trailed just 47-40 heading into the fourth quarter following a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Kendric Johnson off a Buffington steal.

“I think we had them on the ropes a little bit,” Josh Buffington said.

And the run continued to start the fourth, as the Jays scored five of the first seven points to get within four at 49-45 with 5:59 left following two free throws from Martin.

But that would end up being as close as Jefferson City would get the rest of the way, as Ladue, once again, had an answer.

“You see that a lot in high school and college basketball games,” Buffington said. “You fight so hard to get back in it. You’re down 16, and I knew we would make a run and our guys did too, but it can take a lot out of you.”

Dwayne Foley Jr. stopped the momentum with a bucket in the paint, two of his career-high 23 points, and Jackson Freeman followed with a 3 to extend the lead back to nine just more than a minute after it was cut to four.

And the Rams kept the Jays at bay in the final few minutes by knocking down 11-of-16 shots at the free-throw line.

“Ladue played a very good basketball game,” Buffington said. “They played smart, they hit shots, they hit timely shots, made timely plays and we were just too many plays short to come out on the right end.”

Steinbach was next on the scoring list with 17 points for Ladue (26-5), ranked No. 4 in Class 5 by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association, and Sam Goellner joined Foley Jr. and Steinbach in double figures with 13.

Samuels finished with a team-high 18 points for Jefferson City (23-8) and Martin added 14 before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The Rams move on to the state championship game at 6 p.m. today against No. 2 Cardinal Ritter (27-4), which defeated Pembroke Hill 58-54 in Friday’s first semifinal game.

The Jays will look to send off their three seniors -- Samuels, Heller and Maassen -- with a win in the third-place game at 10 a.m. today against Pembroke Hill at Great Southern Bank Arena.

“The obvious goal was to come back down here and get two wins, but we still got a chance to end the season on a win,” Maassen said. “So we will leave it all out there tomorrow.”


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