No. 20 Park Hill South upsets No. 3 Blue Valley Northwest, 56-52, with double-digit comeback

The varsity boys basketball team dropped their third game of the season, 56-52, Saturday Jan. 6 against Park Hill South in the 810 Varsity Showcase at Saint Thomas Aquinas. Junior guard Christian Braun scored 13 points in the Huskies loss.

Gabe Swartz, Editor-in-chief

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In the first four minutes of game action the Blue Valley Northwest Huskies played in 2018, the Huskies came out swinging.

“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” Park Hill South Head coach Danny Parra said. “Our kids were slow getting back, slow rebounding the ball, we just looked a step slower than them in the first half.”

And with that early step, the Huskies got out to a quick 11-2 lead. Headed by junior guard Christian Braun, who opened the game with a baseline floater and senior guard Sam Ward who knocked down a 3 and got a layup plus a foul in transition on the next possession, the Huskies took control of the game early on. On multiple occasions in the first half, the Huskies swarming defense was able to block shots and get steals, leading to baskets at the other end.

“I thought we were a lot more active,” Blue Valley Northwest Head Coach Ed Fritz said. “I thought our defense was pretty good early. We kept them out of the lane and I thought we played harder.”

When senior guard Max Johnson got a steal and layup with 5:02 remaining in the first half, the Huskies lead was extended to 26-11. To that point the Huskies had control of the pace of the game. But, the only offense for the Huskies in the last 5:02 of the second quarter were two free throws from senior forward Joe Pleasant with 3:34 to play in the half. Park Hill South was able to end the half on a 9-2 run to get the deficit to 28-20 at the break.

In the second half, the same issues that plagued the Huskies in their previous two losses to Hazelwood Central and Lee’s Summit West–turnovers and an inability to execute in half-court offense– appeared again. Parra said the Panthers played a more relaxed second half, despite facing a double-digit deficit.

“We just kind of said ‘you know, we don’t have much to lose here, we’re already down big, might as well just try to fight it back through defense and rebounding and see what we could do offensively’,” Parra said.

The Huskies extended their lead to 15 again after a layup by Braun with 2:33 left in the third quarter pushed the score to 42-27. But with a push from Park Hill South junior guard Lamel Robinson, the Panthers were able to tie the game at 44 apiece in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. After scoring 11 points in the first half, Ward disappeared for much of the second half. Braun scored 6 second half points but saw only one shot from the field fall in the second half.

“I don’t know if they did anything different,” Braun said, “I just wasn’t as aggressive in the second half. They stayed on top of us and tried to deny us the ball and I just wasn’t as aggressive so it’s my fault.”

A 23-2 Park Hill South run over a stretch of 5:16 of game action late in the third quarter and early into the fourth quarter gave the Panthers a 50-44 lead over the Huskies. A pick-and-pop 3 for senior forward Parker Braun pulled the Huskies to within a point with 1:54 remaining, but the Huskies were unable to muster any offense in the last two minutes.

With 18.4 seconds left the Huskies called timeout trailing 55-52. Fritz drew up a flare screen to try to get Christian an open shot from behind the arc to tie the game. The Huskies junior guard was able to catch the ball, but a poor screen resulted in an off-balance shot that hit the front of the rim and fell into the hands of the Panthers.

“We didn’t set a very good pick on it,” Fritz said,” but, we tried to run a flare pick to get him a shot. If I could do it again I would’ve tried to come up with something a little better.”

The Huskies would go on to fall 56-52, to drop their record to 3-3 on the season. Prior to the season beginning, the question for the Huskies was who would show up when the game got tighter, and Saturday night failed to provide the answer.

“I thought at the end of the game we were either tired or we weren’t very smart,” Fritz said. “So, it’s just been the same old issues all year.”

The same old issues all year have been turnovers and an inability for the Huskies to score in the half-court of close games down the stretch. While the Huskies were able to win all six of their games decided by five points or less last season, the script has been flipped this year as the Huskies are now 0-3 in games decided by five points or less for the 2017-18 campaign.

With the loss, the Huskies dropped their record to 3-3. Their next game will be Friday Jan. 12 at Blue Valley North. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Despite the Huskies already matching their loss total from all of last year through just six games this season, Christian said he was not worried.

“We just gotta stay together, play as a team, and we’ll end up fine. It just might take a while.”