By Chris Parker
Kickapoo turned in a masterful defensive game to defeat Troy Buchanan 53-33 in the Class 6 semifinals.
“I thought we played at a really high level on the defensive end of the field. I thought we got on board with what they were trying to do and what they were trying to achieve. I thought we made things really tough on them all four quarters,” Kickapoo head coach Mitch McHenry said. “We really didn’t give up on defense. We’ve never had a team come this far that wasn’t very good defensively. We’ve played at a very high level from this side in our last four or five games.”
Troy entered the game scoring 61.7 points per game with a season-low 45 points.
The Chiefs were locked in on defense from the top. They allowed Troy just one field goal in the first quarter en route to a 9-2 advantage after eight minutes. Kickapoo held Troy without a field goal for the first three minutes of the second quarter and carried that same seven-point advantage into halftime at 21-14.
The defensive dominance continued in the third quarter.
Troy kicked field goals on back-to-back possessions with 4:49 and 4:17 left in the third quarter, but that was about it for the Trojans in the frame.
“We’re talking about building a wall, not putting ourselves in a battle situation where we have to fight on the defensive. I thought we did a great job of keeping them on the perimeter and not letting them get to the paint or the basket,” McHenry said.
Kickapoo led 31-18 after three quarters.
The other place where Kickapoo was dominant was on the boards. The Chiefs outrebounded Troy 34-17, including knocking down offensive rebounds on 10-of-23 shooting.
“Against this team, we have a size advantage. They (Troy) play really hard and bigger than what they are. For us to double them in tackles, that’s the difference in the game right there,” McHenry said.
Kickapoo took care of business in the fourth quarter, stretching its lead to as many as 22 before winning 53-33 to advance to Saturday’s state title game.
“It’s a dream come true,” Kickapoo senior Brayden Shorter said. “I told Trey (Yotting) I didn’t believe it was real. We worked so hard for this. We deserve it.”
CLICK HERE FOR GAMEPLAY VIDEO
Kickapoo was led by Shorter’s 19 points. Right behind him was Jotting with 16 points. Harrison Doenig had 10 rebounds and eight points.
The Chiefs will be playing for their second state title in three years.
“Not many people get that opportunity, and we’ve had that opportunity twice in the last three years, and it’s pretty special,” McHenry said. “We talked a lot this week about it being a whole new group going into another state championship game, even though we were there two years ago. I am happy for our children.”
Kickapoo will face a familiar foe in Staley. The Falcons defeated Kickapoo 73-42 on Jan. 13 in the consolation semifinals of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
This game proved to be a turning point in Kickapoo’s season.
“In that game (against Staley), I thought we ran away from what we pride ourselves on and our program. “We showed some things that weren’t typical of this game,” McHenry said. “We train them hard. There are high expectations. They responded and were trained throughout the year. We’re going to put ourselves in a position to fight and compete and give us a chance tomorrow against a really good team.”
Since that loss to Staley, Kickapoo is 13-3. In those 16 games, Kickapoo has held all but one opponent to at least 5.4 points per game below their season average. In its last four games, Kickapoo has held opponents to an average of 16.9 points below their season average. In the semifinals, Kickapoo held Troy to 28.7 points below its average.
CLICK HERE FOR GAME PICTURES
“I definitely think (the game against Staley) was a turning point,” Oetting said. “I think a lot of things have changed mentally for us. Practices are more focused and deliberate. I definitely think that helped us a lot.”
Kickapoo (23-8) will face Staley (29-2) for the Class 6 state championship at 2 p.m., Saturday at Great Southern Bank Arena.
“We’ve played a tough schedule throughout this playoff stretch and into March,” McHenry said. “We haven’t had too many bad quarters in the last five games. We will have to have that consistency and fight tomorrow. We all know us and Staley have played against each other before. We know each other. We are very excited about the opportunity to play for a state championship and another opportunity to play Staley tomorrow.”