Greenwood all-time leading scorer Julius Walker breathed a heavy sigh as he left the basketball court in Lebanon.
The senior poured in 45 points to lead Greenwood (25-3) to a squeaky 73-70 win over Iberia in the boys basketball Class 2 sectional playoffs Wednesday night at J.E. Boswell Auditorium. The Blue Jays saw a 17-point first half lead evaporate and trailed the Rangers by a point with just more than two minutes left in the game.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and I thought, ‘I really don’t want my career to end in this gym,’” Walker said. “As seniors this time of year, you don’t need any motivation to play hard because we know that if we don’t give it our all, our careers are going to be over.”
Four free throws from junior Joseph Brock and one from senior Tony Brandt helped the Blue Jays survive. Brandt scored 16 points.
“Tony is a difference maker when he is out there,” Greenwood coach Darren Taylor said.
Taylor, who likely felt much more comfortable when his team led 24-7 in the first quarter, was grateful for all 45 of Walker’s points.
“Forty-five, that’s a bunch. What can you say? He’s a good player and he showed up at a big time,” Taylor said. “(Walker) has had a bunch of big games and he’s pretty consistent.”
Greenwood’s survival squad has two more senior starters in Wesley Bergen and Garrett Nau.
“Having a senior team gives you four people with experience out there. Julius is probably as good of a leader as I’ve had, and I’ve had a bunch of good ones. He’s right in that category,” Taylor said.
After Walker rained down 19 first quarter points. He spent the next three quarters with Iberia’s Colten Stillwell practically in his hip pocket. Iberia brought a double team every time Walker touched the ball, and he still finished with 45 points.
“They definitely played really close up on me. Before the game, we didn’t think they would play us man-to-man just because of the matchup problems, but they did and all of us wanted to make them pay for that,” Walker said.
Even with the double teams, Walker appeared poised and determined as he made contested shot after contested shot. He credits his coaches for his slick techniques when he plays close to the basket.
“Coach Taylor has taught me a lot of post moves. He was a really great post player back in the ’80s for Willow Springs,” Walker said.
Match-up trouble proved to be an understatement for Iberia coach Steve Scholfield.
“We just don’t have a good match-up for (Walker). He is so good,” Scholfield said. “He is such a smooth player sometimes he doesn’t look like he’s playing hard, and I think we probably disrespected him a little bit, to be quite honest with you. Man, he is a monster.”
Senior Devyn Bloodgood scored 39 points for Iberia in his final high school game.
“Heck of a game to go out on, really. It was a heck of a game, the only thing is we don’t get to play anymore, but that happens this time of year,” Scholfield said.
With 3:54 to play, Walker and Bloodgood shared a handshake and some words at the end of a timeout.
“I said, ‘Man, you’re a really good player, you’re killing us,’ and he was like, ‘Thanks, you too,’” Walker said of his exchange with Bloodgood.
Iberia made eight 3-pointers, four of them by Bloodgood. Seven of the eight from downtown happened in the second half as Iberia mounted a comeback.
“In the first half, I believe (Iberia) hit one three. In the second half, I felt like they missed one three, so that was probably the biggest difference,” Walker said. “We may have let the moment get to us a little bit.”
Greenwood survives and advances to the Class 2 quarterfinals. The Blue Jays will play Crane (18-10) Saturday at 1 p.m. at the O’Reilly Family Event Center at Drury University in Springfield. The game is a rematch of a Dec. 3 championship game of the Pierce City Tournament, which Crane won 55-50.
Boys basketball Class 2 sectional playoffs
Greenwood 73, Iberia 70
Greenwood—Julius Walker 45, Tony Brandt 16, Joseph Brock 6, Wesley Bergen 6
Iberia—Devyn Bloodgood 39, Carter Halley 9, Collin Murray 8, Hayden Humphrey 8, Cole Mason 5, Samuel Huth 1