Lawrence boys basketball earns gritty 59-49 win over Ruskin to stay undefeated
photo by: Chance Parker
STILWELL — The Lawrence High boys basketball team’s identity is taking shape in the infant stages of the 2020-21 campaign. The Lions have been the grittiest and toughest team on the court in all three of their wins.
And that was never more obvious than Lawrence’s 59-49 win over Ruskin High School (Mo.) Wednesday night at Blue Valley High School.
On the second day of a back-to-back — fresh off an exhilarating win over a top-five team in the state — LHS had a sluggish start, though it led all but 10 seconds of the first half. But the Lions were more energized in the second half, and they ultimately led by as many as 17 on their way to a third double-digit win to start the season.
“It was just a lot of grit and fight from us,” said senior Zeke Mayo, who led the Lions with a game-high 28 points in the win. “The first half was rough. They got after us defensively. I think we handled the pressure very, very well in the second half. We found the open man and got good shots.”
It would have been easy for the Lions (3-0, No. 3 in Class 6A) to have somewhat of a letdown against the Golden Eagles. After all, LHS earned a 66-54 win over Blue Valley (No. 5 in Class 6A) the night before.
Wednesday was also the final day of the winter sports season that there would be no spectators. Earlier this week, KSHSAA passed a motion to allow up to two parents or guardians per participant at winter sports events starting on Thursday.
So the tired legs and empty gymnasium could all have explained the ho-hum start by the Lions, who nevertheless scored the first 9 points of the contest. After that, though, Ruskin was able to get Lawrence out of rhythm by providing a lot of ball pressure.
Not only was the defensive style a problem, but it was difficult for the Lions to always discern who was on their own team. Both teams wore white jerseys, even though Lawrence was the designated home squad.
As a result, LHS coughed up 10 turnovers in the first half. A late steal and fastbreak bucket by Ruskin gave the visitors a 22-20 advantage at the break, which was the first time Lawrence trailed all night.
“We expected what I call ‘the chaos’ with them trapping and running the press,” LHS head coach Mike Lewis said. “We haven’t been able to simulate that. To a certain extent, we were out practicing today against that chaotic style of play.”
Yet the Lions got things going in the third quarter to effectively reclaim control of the contest. It started with a designed set on the first possession, as junior Pearse Long knocked down a 3-pointer on an assist from senior Jackson Dooley.
Dooley’s play in the third period provided all the momentum that Lawrence needed on the night. During a 12-0 run to help Lawrence stretch its lead to double-digits, Dooley scored or assisted on four consecutive brackets.
He had back-to-back assists to senior Ntense Obono and Mayo on shots near the rim before following that up with consecutive layups of his own. Dooley, who was the starting quarterback on the football team over the last two seasons, even forced a turnover in transition toward the end of that 12-0 stretch by the Lions.
“He was just tough,” Lewis said of Dooley. “He was gassed and he was playing hard. He stepped up big. That’s a senior. That’s a kid that’s been in a lot of football games, and there is a toughness factor there that is really valuable to our team.”
It also helped that Lawrence emphasized getting to the rim on the offensive end in the second half. Mayo, a South Dakota State signee, was constantly driving hard to the basket and getting efficient looks. He scored 22 of his 28 points in the second half, while also pacing the team with eight rebounds and five steals.
Long also had a nice putback on a miss by junior Avion Nelson early in the fourth quarter. Junior Truman Juelsgaard, junior Grant Cleavinger and senior Corban Oberzan all helped put pressure on the Ruskin defense by attacking the interior defense as well.
“I think we got good shots,” Mayo said. “We were patient on offense and got good looks.”
The Golden Eagles eventually made things interesting late in the game, cutting the deficit to a 49-43 margin with 2:37 remaining. Junior Donald Bangham Jr. netted 10 of his team-high 12 points late in the fourth period to make LHS sweat it out.
The Lions responded with back-to-back buckets by Mayo. His first was a floater at the 2:15 mark, while the second came on a head-up steal that led to a fastbreak layup. It marked the third time in as many contests that Mayo has finished with 20-plus points.
Dooley was second on the team with 9 points.
“We finished well and our guys fought through some adversity,” Lewis said. “I think we learned how to play tired and get through some of the emotional side of it.”
Lawrence will get to have its team picture on Thursday, while having a light practice on Friday before returning to action this weekend. LHS will close out the three-game week with a matchup against Grandview at 12 p.m. Saturday at Blue Valley High School.
“I think we are in a good spot right now,” Mayo said. “We definitely still have a lot to improve on. With this group of guys, I think everybody is prepared and ready to take the next step forward.”
DeAngelo Woods 5-13 1-1 12, Chinedum Idika 3-5 0-0 9, London Green 4-12 3-6 11, Elijah Corner 1-6 0-0 2, Joshua Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Jalen Dunn 1-3 1-2 3, Donald Bangham Jr. 4-10 2-2 12. Totals: 18-49 FG 7-11 FT 49 points.
Zeke Mayo 12-20 4-4 28, Truman Juelsgaard 0-3 0-0 0, Jackson Dooley 4-9 0-0 9, Grant Cleavinger 3-7 1-1 7, Pearse Long 2-6 2-2 7, Avion Nelson 1-5 0-1 2, Ntense Obono 1-2 0-0 2, Jack Ryan 1-1 0-0 2, Corban Oberzan 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 22-55 FG 7-8 FT 59 points.
Ruskin 11 11 8 19 — 49
Lawrence 13 7 17 22 — 59
3-point goals: RHS 6-16 (Idika 3, Bangham, Woods); LHS 2-14 (Dooley, Long). Turnovers: RHS 14; LHS 14. Fouled out: None.