Baldwin City The night was supposed to be about Baker University basketball coach Brett Ballard — former Kansas University point guard and director of basketball operations — as he made his head coaching debut.
That is, until sophomore guard Sam Kenney stole the show.
Kenney’s dramatic three-pointer with two seconds left lifted the Wildcats over Kansas Wesleyan, 53-52, on Thursday night at the Collins Center, making Ballard victorious in his first game as coach.
“We’re pretty fortunate to win,” Ballard said. “We’ll take it, but we’ve got to get a lot better.”
The Wildcats (1-0) appeared to put a sloppy first half behind them, as they came out of the locker room and went on a 9-0 run.
Led by three-pointers from Jaris Wommack and Joe Wachter, Baker held a double-digit lead for most of the second.
But as the turnovers and missed shots mounted for the Wildcats, their lead dwindled until they found themselves trailing the scrappy Coyotes, 52-49, with only two seconds left to play.
Then things got interesting.
After being fouled on a drive to the basket, Kenney made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but the rebound went off of Baker and out of bounds.
On the ensuing inbound play, the Coyotes (0-2) opted to try for a lob pass toward half court, but Kenney leapt up for the steal.
In what seemed like one fluid motion, he gathered himself, took one step, and fired an overhand, football throw of a shot toward the basket as the buzzer sounded.
The crowd went silent as the ball hung in the air, then erupted out of their seats as it clanged off the backboard and through the net. The Wildcats raced off the bench to swarm Kenney, who was already being dog-piled by the student section.
The celebration was briefly put on hold, though. It took roughly ten minutes of confirming replays, but the officials stood by their initial call and confirmed the game-winner.
“To be honest,” said Kenney, who finished with a team-high 12 points and four assists, “there was a lot of luck involved.”
How many times out of 100 could he hit a similar shot?
“Not very many,” Kenney said with a grin. “So I’m glad it wasn’t a H-O-R-S-E game.”
Ballard, who played at KU from 2000-2002 and worked on the administrative staff for the past seven years, was glad to start off with the victory but stressed the need to improve.
“Defensively, we had some big-time letdowns late in the game, which we can’t have happen,” Ballard said of blowing a 10-point second half lead.
Ballard — he succeeded 25-year coach Rick Weaver — displayed a comfort level at his new post, barking at officials and players like he’d been doing it for years.
“I learned from two great guys in coach (Bill) Self and coach (Roy) Williams,” Ballard said. “So I feel like I’ve been able to learn a lot and hopefully that will carry over (here).”
Only, in the future, hopefully with a bit less drama.
“If these games keep going like this, I’m not going to have hair for very long,” Ballard joked.