Jack Simpson kept telling himself it was just another free throw.
Except that it wasn’t.
The Kickapoo sophomore capped a crazy finish Wednesday at Southwest Baptist University, making a free throw with six-tenths of a second left to lift the Chiefs to a 31-30 win over Willard in the Class 5 sectionals.
Simpson’s free throw ended a wild final 11 seconds that saw Kickapoo snatch a victory from Willard after the Tigers had rallied to take the lead down the stretch.
“I kept on thinking, I’ve shot probably 10,000 free throws in my life, and this was just another one,” Simpson said
It was how Simpson got to the line that will be remembered.
With the game tied at 30, Willard tried to set up a play out of a timeout with 11 seconds left.
A Tiger drove baseline and tried to dish the ball off, but the pass was tipped and got loose in the lane. Simpson and Willard’s Kolbe Kinghorn both dove for the ball, with an official ruling that Simpson covered up the ball first before being fouled just before the final buzzer.
“The finish is the finish. Those things can happen in a game like this,” Willard coach Lamont Frazier said. “Both teams competed hard, and we just happened to come up short.”
The game-winning free throw was Simpson’s only point of the game.
“We definitely didn’t draw it up like that,” Simpson said after taking a deep breath. “I thought he would shoot, but he passed and the ball got loose so I dove on it … I knew I was fouled so I ran to the other end and got ready to shoot my free throws.”
Neither team led by more than six points as both offenses struggled against the other’s zone defense.
Willard shot 28 percent, including going 1-for-14 in the second quarter and 4-for-24 in the first half.
Kickapoo (22-6) managed just 26 shot attempts, making three field goals over the game’s last 11 minutes.
Chris Ward had 11 points and six rebounds to lead the Chiefs. Tyler bussell finished with 10 points and five boards.
“The last three minutes our guys grinded it out and got it done, and that’s something we’ve done all season,” Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee said. “I thought it was two really good, really well-prepared teams. Our guys made a couple plays and were able to advance, and that’s what it’s all about this time of year.”
Chris Kendrix led Willard (17-9) with 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Tigers didn’t lead until going up 18-17 midway through the third quarter. Willard was up 30-27 with 3:24 left.
But after scoring 33 points in one quarter in an upset win over Nixa last week, Kickapoo was able to find away on a night when the offense dried up.
“Coming in we felt like we had to play really well to win,” Frazier said. “And we did everything we had to do to give ourselves a chance to win. Tonight was the first time we’ve held a team under 35 points and not won. It happens.”