The championship game of the 2022 Kaminsky Classic proved the old saying is true — it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
Terrance Gibson’s steal and breakaway layup gave Joplin its first lead of the night with 52 seconds remaining, and two late free throws from Always Wright sealed the deal as the Eagles earned a 55-52 come-from-behind victory over Webb City on Saturday at Joplin High School.
Webb City led for more than 30 minutes of the rivalry clash, with Joplin holding the lead for just 52 seconds.
But for the hosts, the final score was all that mattered.
“We didn’t start well, but we played three good quarters of basketball,” Eagles coach Bronson Schaake said. “It wasn’t a pretty win. With the rivalry, we knew it was going to be a dogfight. We had to find the right chemistry to fire them up and that’s what we did. This atmosphere was really good tonight. And I know it’s been a while since Joplin has won this tournament, so this is something special.”
It’s Joplin’s first Kaminsky Classic championship since 2001.
After watching the Cardinals celebrate a tourney championship in 2021, the Eagles flipped the script this year.
“This feels great,” Gibson said. “We’ve worked hard in practice and we came out and did something today that a lot of people didn’t think we could do.”
It’s Joplin’s second tournament championship of the season, as the Eagles also won the Carthage Invitational.
The fourth quarter began with Webb City clinging to a 44-38 lead, and the game went down to the wire.
Bruce Wilbert and Gibson both had buckets early in the final frame for the Eagles, but the Cardinals responded with hoops from Dante Washington and Kaden Turner.
The game’s first tie came at 50-all after Always Wright’s jumper and Quin Renfro’s free throw.
Renfro was at the charity stripe in place of Gibson, who left the game after absorbing a hard foul on a layup attempt.
Washington hit a pull-up jumper just outside of the lane to give the Cardinals a two-point lead with 1:28 remaining, but it would be Webb City’s final points of the night.
All Wright went 1-for-2 at the foul line with 1:07 left to pull the hosts within one.
Next came the play of the game — one that swung the momentum in Joplin’s favor for good.
Webb City turned the ball over on an out of bounds play, as Gibson jumped into the passing lane, picked off the pass, streaked down the court and made a go-ahead layup with 52 seconds left on the clock.
“After I got hurt with that elbow to the head, I didn’t know if I could return,” Gibson said. “It really hurt. But my coach put me in because he had faith in me. They’d ran that play before and I knew it was an important play, so I went for it.”
Schaake noted Gibson came up big when crunch time arrived.
“He made a great read on the ball and then went down and finished it,” Schaake said. “That was the turning point. He really gave us some energy plays.”
The Cardinals did not get a shot up on their next possession, as the visitors turned it over with 20 seconds remaining after Turner came down with a lob on the out of bounds line under the hoop.
After a foul, Always Wright made two free throws to make it 55-52.
Webb City’s Max Higginbotham attempted a contested last-second 3-pointer, but it fell short.
After the first quarter, Joplin outscored Webb City 47-33. And the Eagles won the crucial fourth quarter 17-8.
“Our energy went up as the game went on,” Schaake said. “At the start of the game, I think we were looking around at the stands. This is the first time some of these guys have been part of this. We started chipping away in the second quarter. Webb City’s a really good team. They’ve got some good players, so you have to find a way to create some things…turnovers, deflections and rebounding. We did that.”
Webb City had seven turnovers and just four field goals in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we were in control of the game the whole time, but we lost our minds a little bit at the end,” Cardinals coach Jason Horn said. “We had some bad turnovers and they were able to capitalize. Joplin has two really good players who are hard to stop. On Tuesday we have to do a better job of closing things out. I think we’ll be a lot better on Tuesday.”
Looking to repeat as tourney champions, Webb City built an 11-point lead by the end of the first quarter, as Higginbotham’s drive through the lane gave the Cardinals a 19-8 advantage.
The Eagles began the second period on a 7-2 run, as Renfro contributed a hoop before Always Wright connected on a pair of jumpers.
A pair of hoops from Turner and Cohl Vaden’s hoop in transition gave the Cardinals a 27-17 advantage with 2:45 left in the first half, but the Eagles finished the second period on a 7-1 surge, trimming their deficit to four at the break.
A back-and-forth third period ended with Webb City clinging to a six-point lead.
“We had our chances to stretch the lead in the first half, but we didn’t capitalize on those opportunities,” Horn said. “I thought we had chances to stretch out the lead in the second half, too, but we just didn’t capitalize.”
NAMES & NUMBERS
Now receiving votes in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association’s Class 6 poll, Joplin hiked its record to 10-1.
The Wright brothers combined for 41 of Joplin’s 55 points.
A senior guard, Always Wright scored a game-high 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting. He also had four steals.
A sophomore, All Wright contributed 18 points after making 7-of-22 field goal attempts.
Gibson had a team-high seven rebounds to go along with six points, none bigger than his final two.
“The Wrights did what they do,” Schaake said. “I thought Terrance made some big plays. I thought Quin Renfro and Bruce Wilbert made some big plays.”
The Eagles made 19-of-43 field goal attempts (44 percent). Joplin scored 19 points off Webb City’s 17 turnovers.
Ranked eighth in Class 5, Webb City fell to 8-3.
The Cardinals made 21-of-36 shots (58 percent), but went 1-for-7 on 3-pointers.
Turner led Webb City with 15 points and eight rebounds. Turner made 7 of 12 shots. Trey Roets contributed 13 points, while Washington added 11 points. Vaden had seven points and four assists. Webb City had 38 points in the paint to Joplin’s 20.
REMATCH IS TUESDAY
The Eagles will host the Cardinals at 7:30 on Tuesday night in the Central Ozark Conference opener inside Kaminsky Gymnasium.
Kaminsky Classic All Tournament Team
Kevion Pendleton—Jefferson City
Gabe James—Francis Howell
Kaden Turner—Webb City
Cohl Vaden—Webb City
Darian Webb—Poplar Bluff
Dayne Herl—William Chrisman