For the first time in four seasons, the Jackson boys basketball team faced off with its crosstown rival Cape Central for the annual 16-team Christmas Tournament Championship last Thursday night at a nearly-packed Show Me Center.
The Indians (8-3) were handed their first loss of the season by the Tigers (11-0) 53-33 in the SEMO Conference Tournament title game, but they weren’t going to let this game be that one sided.
Despite Cape taking a 15-4 lead after the first quarter, the game saw a total of seven lead changes with four of them coming in the second half. Jackson even maintained the lead for a good portion of the fourth quarter until the Tigers went on a 11-4 run to end the game.
One of the key reasons why the Indians were able to come back in this game after trailing Cape by nine heading into the second quarter was a career performance by Jackson junior Blayne Harris.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, Harris led the Indians to outscore the Tigers 24-10 in the second with 16 points as nine of them came from 3-point range to take a 28-25 lead into halftime.
Harris hit two more 3-pointers in the game to lead all shooters with five 3s to finish with a game-high 29 points. Pacing Harris in scoring for Jackson was senior Clayton Ernst, who finished with 11 points after scoring nine in the fourth quarter.
However, Harris and Ernst were the only two Indians to score in double digits as junior Judd Thoma (six points) was the only other player for Jackson to record more than one field goal.
Scoring wise for Cape Central, the Tigers had not one but three players score 10 or more points as freshman Marquel Murray and junior Jaydon Reynolds combined for 24 points with a team-high 12 apiece.
Cape’s third-leading scorer was senior Cameron Williams, who came up with 10 points after scoring six in the fourth and was fan-voted as the Christmas Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. In the fourth quarter, Williams went on a 4-0 scoring run of his own, which included a dunk, to give Cape a 51-50 lead with under two minutes remaining.
Williams actually fouled out of the game in the final minute, while Murray missed a good portion of the first half after coming up with two fouls early on. The fouls went in favor of the Tigers in the second half, though, as Cape finished 19-for-25 (76%) at the free-throw line.
Hitting the most shots at the charity stripe for the Tigers was Reynolds by going 6-for-7, while sophomore Matayo Rivers finished 5-for-6 at the line in the fourth quarter alone to seal the win. Williams also only missed one free throw on his three attempts.
Rivers produced a total of eight points off the bench in the contest to finish in a three-way tie for the fourth-most points with his fellow Tigers senior LaTroy McIntosh and junior Maxwell Vogel. Six of Vogel’s points came on two successful and-1 attempts.
As for Jackson, the Indians actually hit a higher percentage of their free throws than Cape at 78.5%, but they only had 14 attempts at the line compared to the Tigers 25. Ernst finished 5-of-6 as Harris went 4-for-6 and Thoma 2-for-2.
Deservedly so, players from this game took up five spots on this year’s 10-person Christmas Tournament All-Tournament Team. Ernst and Harris were the two players selected for Jackson, while Williams, McIntosh and Murray represented Cape on the all-tournament team.
To reach the championship game for the second-straight season (lost to Charleston last winter), the Indians beat their first two opponents by 40 points or more.
Jackson handled No. 15 seeded Delta 109-16 as Ernst and Harris combined for 25 (13 and 12, respectively) in the opening round on Dec. 26. The Indians had seven other players score seven or more points versus the Bobcats as Thoma had nine. Fellow starter senior Kaed Winborne had eight points as did seniors Luke Tally, Isaiah Davis and junior Braeden Thoma while coming off the bench for Jackson.
The Indians followed that up with a 75-35 win over No. 6 Oran (7-3) on Dec. 27, where Harris had another 20-point outing with a game-high 23 points while hitting two 3s. Ernst and Judd Thoma paced Blayne in scoring, of course, with a combined 29 points by scoring 16 and 13, respectively.
On Wednesday in the championship semifinals, Jackson upset No. 2 seed Charleston (8-5) by two points at 43-41 after taking down the Blue Jays 81-53 in the conference tournament. Harris was the only Indian to reach double-digit points with 11, while Ernst and Thoma both scored nine. Senior Steven Schneider scored eight off the bench.