Waynesville finishes its season with a 24-3 record as they fall to Hickman in sectionals
Oftentimes, basketball referees try to stay as quiet as possible during matches and let the boys play.
Sometimes, coaches beg to hear that whistle blow just one more time.
Wednesday in Camdenton, Waynesville fell victim to a “swallowed whistle” in the final minute as junior Juwan Morgan absorbed significant contact on a couple of layups that would have either put the Tigers on top or tie the game up, but both shots missed.
Hickman extended their lead after the second miss and, following a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Waynesville sophomore Joe Johnson, the Kewpies defeated the Tigers 46-45 and ended their postseason run.
Waynesville coach Chris Pilz said he couldn't blame the referees for his team's loss, but it still made him shake his head.
“I thought the officials did the best they could, but in my opinion Morgan was probably fouled on every possession,” Pilz said. “One of them said, 'We can't call every foul.' Well, we would like for you to.”
Pilz said the refs weren't dealt an easy game to officiate.
It was Morgan vs. Hickman's junior Jimmy Whitt- who is one of the top guards in the country and has been extended scholarship offers from several schools- and Chis Clark. Clark is a very talented guard who is one of the best seniors in the state.
From the get-go, Morgan and Clark took hold of the spotlight.
Clark dropped in a 3-pointer to start the game and Morgan answered with a putback and free throw for a 3-point play of his own.
Then, Clark pressed rewind and hit another left wing three with 6:45 left in the first quarter. Afterwards, he turned to Waynesville's student section and made a throat-slash gesture.
Morgan continued to keep his team close throughout the first part of the game, scoring 12 of the Tigers' 16 points. Six of his points were on free throws.
Clark also scored 12 points, but his team edged Waynesville by putting up 19 on the scoreboard to take the early lead. Clark's 3-pointers were the difference in the game at that point.
“We did want to them to shoot the three, but we wanted Clark to stop short and then we could contest his shot,” Pilz said. “We let him hit four in the first quarter and we weren't close on three of them.”
Clark also opened up scoring in the second quarter. This time, he stole the ball and took it to the rim for a layup.
Morgan continued to be Waynesville's answer for Clark when he followed with a short jumper in the lane.
The two stars quieted down some after that, adding only free throws to their teams' totals.
For the Kewpies, senior Douglas Johnson took the lead role, hitting a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper to follow one of Morgan's free throws with 3:36 left in the half.
Sophomore Joe Johnson provided some offense for his team when he sliced and diced Hickman's defense for a layup, fighting off three defenders while scoring with his right hand.
Johnson hit two free throws to end the half and keep it a three point deficit for his team, 28-25.
As his team headed to the locker room in Camdenton, Pilz realized just how far Hickman would go to defeat his Tigers.
“At halftime (Morgan) lifted up his shirt, looked and he was bruised all over,” Pilz said. “But that's part of the game. I'm not saying the officials are bad, we've told him all year long that this is what's going to happen, but it was foul him any time you want to foul him. That's unfortunate, but I wouldn't want to officiate that game.”
Pilz understands the referees' standpoint and knows the answer to Morgan's problem.
“Morgan has to do a better job and get in the weight room,” he said. “He wants to play major college basketball. They don't call any fouls in the Big 12 or the SEC around the basket.”
The junior forward himself didn't pass off the blame either. Instead, he placed it solely on himself despite leading the game in scoring for both squads with 25 points.
“I get double-teamed a lot so I was just trying to play my game and not let them get in my head,” Morgan said. “I did what I could to put my team in position to win, but I came up short. I apologize to the whole team. I just couldn't get it done for them.”
Even though he chalked up the loss to his own play, Morgan played a huge role in taking the lead for his team for the first time in the game in the third quarter.
Senior Jaron Alexander swished in a 3-pointer to open the third to tie the game at 28.
Mason Murray, a senior for Hickman, answered quickly with a three-ball of his own.
Morgan was fouled on the next possession and hit both of his free throws.
After a Kewpies' basket, Morgan dropped in a putback and an alley-oop layup to tie the game at 34 with 2:05 remaining in the quarter.
Then, he had a huge block on Whitt and Whitt traveled as he tried to bring the ball back down.
Following that, Morgan put in a layup off an inbounds pass to take a 36-34 lead for the Tigers.
The forward had absolutely caught fire.
Just as a finishing touch, Morgan batted down another shot to preserve the lead with 36 seconds until the buzzer.
It didn't take Hickman long to claw its way back though.
Whitt saved some face with a floater over Waynesville's defense to open the quarter and tie the game.
Senior Michael Thompson sunk a right wing 3-pointer to keep his Tigers on top.
Clark went coast-to-coast on a layup to answer, but senior Kellieon Williams drove the baseline for a big slam to rile up the Waynesville crowd with 2:38 to go in the game.
What happened next was unbelievably heart-breaking.
Clark was fouled and he hit both free throws. Hickman's Johnson hit a reverse layup to take a 42-41 lead. Next up was the first of two no-calls that allowed the Kewpies' to contact Morgan on a layup, which was with around 20 seconds left.
Clark came down with the rebound and was intentionally fouled. He hit both of his free throws.
On the ensuing play, Hickman fouled Joe Johnson three times in a row to kill some clock and prevent the Tigers from getting a quick score.
After Johnson sunk one free throw, he missed the second.
Morgan went up for the rebound, but was absolutely mauled and Hickman's Douglas Johnson came down with the rebound.
Johnson was intentionally fouled with 4.8 seconds left. He hit both free throws to clinch the game.
Joe Johnson hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer as a type of retaliation, but it obviously wasn't enough and Hickman won 46-45.
The Waynesville Tigers, ranked No. 3 in the final Class 5 regular-season state poll, end with a 24-3 record.
The Hickman Kewpies, 25-2 and ranked No. 4 in the final regular-season poll, will meet Willard (21-6) in quarterfinal play at 7:45 p.m. Saturday on the campus of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. Willard advanced by beating Nixa 40-37 in sectional action Wednesday.
Looks of shock, sadness and disbelief fell upon the faces of the Tigers and their fans Wednesday night.
Even so, Pilz couldn't leave Camdenton without an optimistic look to the future.
“We've had a tremendous season,” Pilz said. “We've got some guys coming back, but we're losing five seniors that have meant a great deal to our program. I think those guys showed the younger guys the importance of how to care about and work on their games. Hopefully they've left that as their legacy and it tells the young guys to press on.”
One of his seniors made a similar statement.
“It feels good (to accomplish so much this year), but at the same time it's heartbreaking,” Williams said. “The guys next year have to learn from it and hopefully they'll be back here and move on from this next year.”
Moving on will be important.
It was what got Waynesville into the position they've been in the last few years instead of where they used to be before Pilz came to town.
“I took the job three years ago on the aspirations of trying to win a state championship and I think guys in Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City thought I was crazy,” Pilz said. “But I think we've gotten to the point where we are consideration.”
They still will be next year, too.
The Tigers have their best player returning next season along with some interesting young prospects.
“I feel like Morgan is going to be the best player in the state,” Pilz said. “When you've got that, little Joe, Reggie and some of the other guys coming back, after a good summer, I think we can make another legit run at this thing.”
If those young players take any kind of significant steps forward in their games, another 20-win season is not at all out of reach next year.
One thing is for certain, if Waynesville doesn't bring back a state championship next year, it won't be because of a lack of preparation or time practicing. The Tigers won't be taking much of a vacation between this season and offseason workouts.
“Monday morning, we're going to be back in the gym going harder than ever,” Morgan said. “We'll be ready. We're already hungry for next season.”