RIVERSIDE, Mo. — With a capacity crowd so packed into Park Hill South High School that dozens of fans were turned away at the door, Park Hill needed a calming influence.
No player on the current roster has been in that type of rivalry environment more than senior guard Dru Smith, who came up big in the pivotal moments of the first half Wednesday, Dec. 21. The Trojans stayed close early and then pulled away late behind Ronnie Bell’s team-high 22 points in a memorable 61-56 victory in the only guaranteed matchup between the two teams this season.
Now in separate divisions of the Suburban Conference and different districts for the postseason, the intra-district foes can’t meet again unless both advance to the Class 5 state quarterfinals. Park Hill entered with just one win in the previous six games of the series but improved to 2-1 in the past three with the victory.
“I just came out to play my game, following the plays and just listening to my coaches,” said Smith, a three-year starter who scored 18 points in the win. “I just had to knock down open shots when I had a chance to knock down open shots. I just wanted to show my teammates it’s just a regular basketball game.
“This is very special because it’s at South. It’s just a good win.”
Park Hill improved to 7-0, surviving an early season showdown of state-ranked rivals.
Up by double digits late, the Trojans ended up enduring a wild final minute that included missed dunks for Bell and sophomore forward Roman Wilson, both fouled on breakaway attempts, and a free-throw line dustup between Park Hill South sophomore guard Lamel Robinson (game-high 23 points) and Bell.
Park Hill South, which came in ranked No. 8 in the most recent Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Class 5 poll, closed within 58-54 when Bell and then Wilson combined to miss four straight free throws after their missed dunks. Robinson missed a runner with a chance to cut the lead to one possession, and Park Hill senior forward Chester Graves split a key pair of free throws.
Park Hill’s lead ended up at three for a brief moment, but Park Hill South never held possession with a chance to tie in the closing minutes of another memorable conclusion. The two teams played three times in 2015-2016 — all featuring down-to-the-wire finishes.
“If we hit our free throws, we walk away with it,” Park Hill coach Chad Jones said. “You knew it would be. It’s a really good rivalry between two really good teams that a have a chance to do some things down the stretch. You knew it would be a close game.”
An early 3 from Robinson gave Park Hill South a quick 4-0 lead with a rowdy crowd growing even more rowdy.
With 6-foot-9 Wilson providing three of his six blocks in the opening minutes, Park Hill quickly fought back, and the first of two 3s for Smith put Park Hill up 8-6. The Trojans, who entered undefeated and ranked at No. 6 in Class 5, trailed much of a first half that seemed to be a back-and-forth battle between Smith and Robinson.
Bell also hit a pair of 3s in the first half, and the Trojans held a 26-25 lead in the waning seconds of the half.
With time ticking away, Bell appeared to rush a buzzer-beater chance, possibly influenced by the home crowd’s faux countdown. Desi Williams, Park Hill South’s sophomore point guard, took advantage of the remaining time with a pull-up 3-pointer from the left wing at the horn to put the Panthers back in front.
The shot was so good that while Williams and Robinson celebrated, Park Hill South senior student Andrew Aswegan briefly joined in on the court as the confused referees looked on.
“I thought South hit some shots in the first half that were hard shots to hit that I didn’t think they’d hit in the second half,” Jones said. “Our guys stayed with it. A lot of credit to them because they were doing what they were supposed to.”
Williams hit his third and final 3 to open the third quarter scoring on his way to 13 points.
Park Hill’s charge back featured highlight reel plays. First, Graves threw down a one-handed dunk while traversing the lane, and Bell tied it at 34-34 moments later. Park Hill South’s final lead came on Spear Hakim’s putback basket at the third quarter buzzer.
Down 38-36, Park Hill used a 3 from Bell to start a 7-2 run, and Robinson missed a pair of free throws on and-one opportunities.
Park Hill South didn’t recover, and a key turnover sparked the final push. Willy Majok, Park Hill’s junior point guard, grabbed a steal along the sideline and blindly tossed the ball ahead to Bell, who went in for a one-handed dunk to give the Trojans a 52-44 lead.
Moments later, Majok hit two free throws to push the advantage to 54-44 with under 2 minutes to play.
“It was a great play by Willy — dove out of bounds and made a great pass to me,” Bell said. “He didn’t even see me. He threw it behind him, actually. I knew I needed to get on the rim for sure.
“It was kind of bone-chilling once it happened because I just felt the energy in the gym.”
Despite the double-digit lead, the finish didn’t end up devoid of tense moments.
The missed free throws gave Park Hill South life, and Robinson continued to score to put on the pressure, even sinking a pair of free throws late despite a distraction. Bell attempted to box him out on the first half of the one-and-one with Robinson sprawling to the ground in an apparent attempt to draw a foul.
While Park Hill’s players cried flop, Bell attempted to give Robinson a hug, only to be rebuffed with a slight shove. That ended up being the last bit of fight between the two teams with the Trojans staying just composed enough to win behind a senior guard in his seventh game vs. Park Hill South.
“We all contributed for the win and just had a good game,” Smith said. “I just had to stay focused and keep the young kids focused because I’ve played in these games a lot more than them.”
Platte County 71, Fort Osage 65
Deiondre Ragsdale’s dominant outside shooting led the Pirates into the holiday break with a needed win Tuesday, Dec. 20.
Improving to 3-5 overall, Platte County pulled ahead for good with a strong third quarter, outscoring the Indians 22-12. Ragsdale finished with game-highs of 24 points and five 3-pointers to lead the offense, which topped 70 points for the first time this season.
Platte County made eight 3s total with Lucas Stanley (18 points) and John Watts (11 points) hitting one each.