The Willard Tigers’ junior forward Chris Kendrix started Friday’s game against Carl Junction with a steal and thunderous dunk, and on what was a slow night for both offensive squads, maybe showed himself to be a leader on the Tiger team.
In Willard’s final contest before the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament opener on Wednesday, Willard topped the Bulldogs 49-37.
Kendrix finished with a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds.
“At halftime we talked about coming out in the second half and establishing ourselves mentally and physically,” said Willard coach Lamont Frazier. “It seemed like we were just matching them possession for possession in the first half and you don’t want to do that. You never know when the team you’re playing will make a run. We needed a leader. We needed someone to step up for us. Chris Kendrix made the first attempt at doing that.”
Kendrix had just four points in the first half, but hit 5-of-5 attempts from the floor in the second half, including another slam off a bounce pass from guard Cainen McGinnis in the lane early in the fourth quarter. Kendrix also sank both free-throw attempts in the second half.
The Tigers (6-3) were back and forth with Carl Junction in the early going and went into halftime with a 20-16 lead. Neither team was able to find a consistent outside scoring threat as the teams combined to go 0-for-16 from 3-point range in the first half.
Carl Junction pulled to within three points (28-25) with 3:05 remaining in the third quarter after a short jumper by Andrew Wilson, but that would be the Bulldogs’ final points until a driving layup by Matt Magee with 5:11 left to play. Willard put up a 10-0 scoring run during the nearly five-minute scoring drought and the Bulldogs could not cut the gap.
“We’re into Christmas break now, and this wasn’t a great atmosphere tonight,” said Carl Junction coach Kyle Williams. “It was kind of dull. Not a lot of energy. I felt like we did a good job with our zone defense, in that we didn’t allow them to speed up the tempo, but their length really hurt us. And we missed a lot of free throws.”
The Bulldogs (5-3) were 4-for-12 at the free-throw line, and also turned the ball over 25 times in the game, preventing their offense from gaining consistency.
“You miss a lot of free throws and turn the ball over that much, you’re going to lose a lot of ballgames,” said Williams.
Kolbe Kinghorn scored 11 for the Tigers. Carl Junction was led by 13 points from Magee.
The Tigers now focus on the Blue and Gold Tournament where, as the third seed, they will face host Greenwood on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. Frazier said he is hoping for a consistent four quarters from his team.
“I want us to figure out a way to be a better team in general, but most of all, consistency,” he said. “I want to see us be fundamentally sound, and play to our abilities. Over nine games so far we have played very well in the third quarter. We either put teams away, or get back into the game in the third quarter. I want to see that same effort in the first quarter.”
Willard’s second-leading scorer Damon Wester was still suspended for undisclosed reasons and not in uniform at Friday’s game. Frazier said Wester was in charge of his future on the team and beyond.
“It’s up to Damon at this point,” he said. “That’s a prime example of some of the adversity we are having to fight through right now.”