The Branson High School boys’ basketball team proved Tuesday it can be dangerous offensively when its prolific guards have hot hands.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, they also proved they need Da’Quan Ervin and Thatch Unruh to have it going pretty much throughout the entire game.
The backcourt started slowly and thus did Branson in a 70-61 loss at Kickapoo, playing from behind throughout.
The Pirates (3-2) fell behind 18-7 as the guards combined for 1-of-9 shooting in the first quarter — all 3-point attempts.
“They made a couple plays early on, and it knocked us on our heels a little bit,” said Brian McTague, the first-year coach who came over from Clever. “I don’t want to say we panicked, but we shot a couple quick shots and kind of let it snowball on us in the first quarter.”
Meanwhile, Kickapoo (4-1) got the start it wanted as sophomore Jack Simpson opened the game with a 3-pointer and then closed the half by scoring a layup at the buzzer off a Matt Ridder steal.
In between, 6-foot-5 senior Chris Ward dominated when called upon. Ward owned the paint throughout with 21 points and 13 rebounds. He also found cutters and open shooters against a collapsing defense, finishing with five assists.
“That’s mainly our focal point has been that first 3 minutes, and we had a good first 3 minutes,” said Simpson, who finished with 18 points. “With Da’Quan, we kind of played off because he’s really good off the dribble. Unruh, we tried to stay inside him because he really can shoot it. And he showed that tonight.
“With Chris, I just have to lob it up. He’s a beast. That’s all I have to say about him.”
Unruh and Ervin led Branson back into the game, chipping away to a 39-36 deficit early in the third quarter after two Unruh transition layups.
Ervin scored 15 points in the final 10 minutes of the game, but Kickapoo hit 11 of its first 13 free throws of the fourth, keeping the game just out of reach.
The pair shared game-high honors with 24 points apiece.
Branson has likely played its way into a middle seed for the holiday Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament, which will be seeded today.
The Pirates will play host to the first playing of the Ozark Mountain Shootout this weekend, a two-day series of 10 games featuring teams from southwest Missouri against out-of-area teams.
Branson will play Jefferson City Helias Catholic in Friday’s 8 p.m. nightcap.
Kickapoo plays Friday at Ozark, and will attempt to move to 2-0 against district opponents.
Coach Dick Rippee said his team will progress, and should be aided by improved health from Tyler Bussell, who suffered a preseason injury and is returning to form.
In addition, starting point guard Tyson Batiste is expected to begin his season in January after a foot injury, and 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Ryan Burland just joined the varsity and could have his role expand after enrolling into Kickapoo from the home-school ranks.
“I thought we kind of let them back in it, and I was disappointed with that,” Rippee said. “Give them credit, they fought. That’s going to be a really good team the longer they go and learn his system, and those guys compete.
“I don’t know that we got it done tonight, but we scored more points than they did. We outlasted them, let’s just say it that way.”