When the final buzzer sounded and the Willard fans stormed the court on Tuesday, no one was more proud than junior Chris Kendrix.
The standout forward was supremely proud of his team’s 61-42 Central Ozark Conference upset of Class 4 No. 2-ranked Republic, he just wasn’t as proud of the ensuing celebration.
“It’s a good win, but we have to be mature about it and keep improving,” Kendrix said following the win. We’ve just got to look at it as a win and keep our head on straight and I’m trying to get everyone on the team to think like that.
“I’ve got to lead them to where they can’t think a big win like this is the same as winning a whole district championship. We’ve got to look at this as another win and just keep on going.”
Kendrix helped stake Willard to a big second-quarter lead with 15 points as the host Tigers took a 16-point halftime lead (33-17).
Willard led 15-14 midway through the second quarter when its collective energy began to make a difference on the scoreboard.
Willard (15-7, 3-2) outscored Republic (19-4, 3-2) by 15 points over the next 3:17 for a 30-16 lead with less than a minute to go.
“That’s the way I hope we are and that’s the way we have to play,” Willard coach Lamont Frazier said. “I don’t want to say we played above our heads, because I don’t think we did.
“We had a game plan and we stuck with it and sometimes when you stick to the game plan it works.”
Kendrix had nine points during the decisive run and had 15 of his game-high 31 points in the second quarter alone.
“Chris is an all-around player and he comes with it every night and we try to get the ball to him as much as we can because he’s unstoppable,” Willard senior Kolbe Kinghorn said. “We try to do everything we can to get him points on the board … and us wins.”
Republic was able to cut the lead to 12 points (39-27) midway through the third quarter and eventually cut the deficit to 11 (44-33) early in the fourth period, but couldn’t get it below double figures the rest of the way.
Kinghorn scored five of his 13 points in the fourth quarter and had six rebounds and a blocked shot.
“We knew we could win this one all along, but we knew we had to play hard and I think we came out and did just what we needed to do tonight,” Kinghorn said.
“I feel like this win makes us a lot more confident and there’s no one for us to fear as long as we keep playing like this.”
Republic shot 78 percent from the field in the first half (7 for 9), but committed nine turnovers in the first half and finished with 17 turnovers total in the loss.
“When you turn the ball over in the first half, you can shoot the best percentage in the world but if you don’t get shots, it doesn’t do you any good,” Republic coach Trevyor Fisher said. “There were a lot of balls that went right through our hands and that’s lack of focus and lack of toughness.
“We lacked mental toughness, physical toughness up and down the line. They just beat us in every aspect of the game and credit them for that.”