It looks like Chris Kendrix is continuing to grow comfortable with playing at JQH Arena.
But for Kevin Dorsey and the Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI Panthers, the campus of Missouri State University looks pretty much like home.
Kendrix played hard and competed well early, but defending Bass Pro Tournament of Champions champion Paul VI ran away late with an 83-49 victory Thursday to move to 4-0 in two seasons in Springfield.
“It feels really good back and see a lot of the fans come out and watch us,” Dorsey said. “The fan base is incredible, and you get to see good basketball.”
And much of it from the 6-foot junior.
“I’ve seen a lot of people looking at me,” he said. “I guess they recognize me from last year.”
Dorsey hit two game-winning buzzer-beaters to lift the Panthers, currently ranked No. 14 in the USA Today Super 25, to a surprise title last season.
In the opening game of the 30th edition, Dorsey again showed why he ought to consider making Springfield a more permanent stop.
The junior guard — who is considering scholarship offers from Virginia Commonwealth, Creighton, Southern Methodist and Massachuetts, among others — scored all 15 of his points in the first half as the Panthers (13-2) jumped out to a 16-3 lead early.
Kendrix and the Tigers (11-3) responded in the second quarter.
The MSU signee led a charge that brought the deficit to 11 points with 1:45 to play before halftime. He scored all 10 points during a 10-4 stretch for Willard, but Paul VI pushed the deficit back to 45-28 at halftime.
“It’s an honor just to be in it and get to play in it for the first time, and get to see the crowd – a college crowd like I will next year,” Kendrix said. “That competition is far beyond what we’ve been playing against. It kind of showed, but at the same time it was really still fun and exciting just to be able to play and compete against such a highly ranked team.”
After Paul VI coach Glenn Farello challenged his team to stop Kendrix in the second half, he scored just five points the rest of the way as the Panthers took complete control.
“One person scored the majority of their points and we don’t like their best player to beat us,” said Georgetown commit Marcus Derrickson, a junior who was T of C MVP last season, after scoring 14 points. “If somebody is going to beat us, it’s going to be a role guy. It was unacceptable on our part to let their best player get open like that. We weren’t too happy with that game.”
Kendrix scored a game-high 26 points in his future arena, but Willard committed 26 turnovers, including 18 in the first half.
Paul VI will play in the 8 p.m. semifinal today against Memphis (Tenn.) White Station, the five-time T of C champs.
Willard plays in the 5 p.m. game again, a consolation semifinal against High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian.
“If we’re going to be a good basketball team, there are going to be some nights where (Kendrix is) going to have to bear the brunt of everything that goes on offensively,” Willard coach Lamont Frazier said. “I thought we had a great complement with his work on the offensive end with some other guys doing some things defensively (in the second quarter).
“Our guys played hard. You know what you’re getting into when you walk into a situation like this.”