Columbia Hickman High School boys basketball coach David Johnson definitely had a plan for Saturday’s afternoon matchup with Kickapoo.
A plan that nearly worked too well.
“Our goal was we didn’t want to give their shooters any space,” Johnson said. “We were going to have to live with (Chris) Ward killing us inside and it was hard because it started to look like he was going to get it done.
“We felt like we had 20 fouls to give on him and we were going to use them all.”
The monstrous, 6-foot-5 Ward had a monster game, but some big shots down the stretch by the Kewpies allowed No. 1 ranked Hickman to escape with a 73-68 victory over Kickapoo in Saturday’s Class 5 quarterfinal at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Ward, who scored 28 points and pulled down 16 rebounds. “I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how far we’ve come as a team. But nobody wants to end like that.”
It was certainly one the Chiefs (22-7) will replay over and over in their heads for a while. After being on the verge of a huge deficit, Kickapoo rallied to lead by as many as seven with 3:04 left.
But a pair of 3-pointers by Hickman reserve and coach’s son Douglas Johnson cut it to 66-64 with 1:40 left. Hickman’s James Whitt — a thorn in Kickapoo’s side all night — followed with a tough 18-foot jumper to tie it and a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left for a 69-66 lead.
Both shots followed Kickapoo misses at the free throw line, a problem in the second half. Kickapoo was 11 of 15 in the first half, but just 7 of 16 in the second.
“We made some bad decisions and missed a couple of free throws and it kind of snowballed on us a little bit,” Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee said. “Good teams do that. We forced them to make big plays and they made them.
“That’s why they’re good.”
Hickman (26-2) built a 54-45 lead late in the third quarter as Ward sat to catch his breath and missed a chance to extend its lead to double digits. A pair of layups by Kickapoo’s Tyler Bussell, followed by a half-court 3-pointer at the buzzer by sophomore Tyson Batiste, made it 54-52 after three quarters.
Kickapoo — which had not led since the opening minute of the game — continued on its 18-4 run and a 65-58 lead before the Kewpies rallied.
“I was really proud of our guys’ effort,” Rippee said. “They never gave in and never gave up. Certainly we’d like to go back and replay that last 3:30, but it isn’t because our guys weren’t trying.
“It’s just been a privilege to coach them and been one of the most enjoyable years I’ve had as a coach.”
It was Ward’s most dominant game as a Chief and the senior is weighing his college options at the moment.
“He had a great career and I’ve never been more proud of any player I’ve ever coached,” Rippee said. “What he did from last year to this year, just turned it around as a person. Not necessarily as a player….he was always a great, talented player, but what he’s done as person I’m so proud of him.”