On this night, for whatever reason, the shots finally fell for Lawrence High’s boys basketball team. The Lions jumped to a 17-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
But Ralston, Neb., behind senior Grant Kay’s relentless attacking, made it a game, closing the gap to just five late in the fourth quarter. The Lions held on, 53-48, at the Blue Valley Shootout for their first victory of the season.
Despite the struggles to end the game, LHS coach Mike Lewis was happy just to get a victory.
“We were getting a little hungry there with those last couple games, and a win feels really good,” Lewis said.
Lewis recognized that his young team — he started senior Garrett Wagner, juniors KJ Pritchard, Anthony Buffalomeat and Logan Henrichs and sophomore Derby Miller — still has a lot to learn.
He was encouraged with the team’s ball movement and improved offensive balance. After mostly relying on the three juniors for scoring in its first two games of the season, LHS got nine points from Wagner, five points from sophomore Brad Strauss and four from Miller.
What Lewis wasn’t as happy with was how the Lions finished the game. With a 43-27 lead going into the fourth quarter, the LHS guards committed several turnovers in a row against the Rams’ pressure defense.
Lewis said that it’s tough to balance slowing down the pace but still attacking while trying to run the clock out. With 2:15 to go, the Lions were able to control possession for over a minute, making the Rams’ comeback attempt more unlikely.
But the turnovers to open the quarter still bothered Lewis.
“I didn’t think we did a real good job there at the end,” Lewis said. “I thought we did an OK job pacing it, but we didn’t finish. We turned the ball over. We had them where we wanted them, but we just didn’t finish.”
Pritchard was frustrated that the Lions let the Rams hang around. The Lions committed 14 turnovers and only forced eight.
“We’ve just got to take care of the ball at all times in the game,” Pritchard said. “We just have a bad time taking care of the ball.”
The Lions struggled to take care of it, but there weren’t many problems shooting it. After shooting 34.1 percent and 31.2 percent from the field in their first two games, the Lions hit 47.6 percent of their shots Friday.
“When we’re hitting on the outside and we’re getting to the bucket, it just opens up the game for everybody,” said Pritchard, who finished with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
LHS squares off against Lee’s Summit North (Mo.) in the fifth-place game of the tournament at 2:15 p.m. today.
Lewis said he is a little worried about the Broncos’ size inside. Senior David Kravish is 6-foot-9 and sophomore Tory Miller is 6-foot-8.
Another concern is the Lions’ ability to create energy for a mid-afternoon tipoff.
Pritchard said he thought the energy would come when the team needed it, especially considering the team’s goal coming into the tournament.
“It’s just another high school game you’ve got to look forward to. You’ve got to cherish the moment while it’s here,” Pritchard said. “I know it’s 2:15. We’re not in the winners’ bracket. We’re not in the third-place game. We have nothing really to look forward to, but just us getting our two wins out of this tournament.”