It appears Erik Durham’s Parkview High School teammates have made big strides in the offseason.
And it appears the senior guard is ready to lead the Vikings to a big year.
Led by the usual defensive toughness deployed by a Bill Brown-coached basketball team, Parkview dispatched host Willard on Tuesday, 54-51.
Durham scored a game-high 19 points to lead the Vikings (5-0), and was aided by improved seniors AJ Green (15 points) and Nathan Reichert (9).
“We’ve really practiced in the gym, and the offseason is where we really worked out,” Durham said. “We’ve got a bunch of other people helping out our team, too.”
Green, known mainly as a high-flyer in past seasons, has expended his all-around game. He’s handling the ball more, creating his own shot and has expanded his shooting range beyond the 3-point line.
“I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on Erik because he was our returning guy, and one of our main shooters,” Green said. “I had to make sure I practiced my shot a lot so that I’d be prepared for games like this.”
Meanwhile, Reichert is a throwback inside with solid footwork, and has added a skyhook to his set of post moves.
Willard (3-2) hung tight for a quarter, but then had the game slip away as standout junior Chris Kendrix battled foul trouble.
Parkview’s defense allowed 12 points combined in the second and third quarters, as the Tigers shot 4-for-22 from the field and 4-for-11 from the free-throw line in that span.
Then, Parkview had a 10-0 run early in the fourth, keyed by two Durham steals, to take a 45-27 lead and secure the win. After one steal, Durham went the length of the court and spun for a basket to force a Lamont Frazier timeout.
“I’m proud of our defense; I thought our defense did a good job,” said Frazier, the first-year Willard coach and former University of Missouri standout player. “But we missed layups. If we were able to finish it, it might be a completely different game. Not saying that we would win it, but we’d have a chance.”
Austin Autry made all 10 of his free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal the victory.
The win also could have major Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament seeding implications. With Nixa all but assured one of the top seeds, Parkview made a strong claim for the other with the victory.
“I’m very pleased with how we’re doing,” Durham said. “We’re working hard as a team, and coming out really good.”
The Vikings are off until the seeds for the Dec. 26-29 tournament are announced on Dec. 12. The Vikings have games with Neosho, Ozark and Carthage before the tournament.
Willard plays at Lebanon on Friday, and could still be in line for a No. 2 seed in the annual holiday tournament.
“It was a good ballgame,” Frazier said. “I thought both teams attempted to do what the coaches wanted them to do, and one team was just able to follow through.”