BALLWIN – This time there would be no miracle finish.
The boys basketball team did something that hadn’t been done at the school in 26 years in winning the district championship, and earning a berth in the MSHSAA state tournament.
Unfortunately though, that meant a first-round matchup with the No. 1-ranked team in Missouri Class 4 – the Soldan Tigers.
And this time, there would be no miracle three-pointer at the end to save the Lions, who were bounced out the state basketball playoffs following a 56-44 loss to Soldan in a state tournament sectional game Wednesday night at .
“We missed a lot of shots in the first half,” U. City head coach David Gammon said. “Those are shots we usually make, but we missed them tonight. We just weren’t quite as focused as we needed to be.”
Experience in the playoffs clearly seemed to be a factor for both teams, as U. City got off to a terrible start (only making two of their first 12 shots), while Soldan, which has advanced to the state Final Four in each of the last two seasons, came out red-hot and knocked down six of their first eight shots and added seven first-quarter free throws to lead 19-7 at the end of the first period.
“They’re really good and they got off to a fast start,” Gammon said. “It’s a bad position to be in that’s for sure.”
U. City was able to change the pace of the game a bit in the second quarter, with seniors Travon Williams and Jeff McGhee leading the way. But the Lions still trailed 26-18 at halftime.
In the third quarter though, is when U. City made its move, and pulled to withing 28-24 early in the period thanks to a pair of nifty buckets by Alex Henry and Williams, and Avion Ashford.
“When we got to (that point), I thought ‘oh here we go’, we can win this game,” Gammon said.
But somebody forgot to tell Soldan that, as the top-ranked small school team in the city and No. 1 team in Missouri Class 4 responded with an 11-0 run that gave them an edge that U. City would never be able to overcome.
“We knew we needed to make a move,” Soldan coach Justin Tatum said. “They were getting it going a little bit, and we knew we had to turn up our intensity, and to our kids credit, that’s what they did.”
Soldan seniors Paul McRoberts and Randy Holmes led the way, scoring 14 and 13 points for the Tigers respectively, with each adding in three points and two assists during the key run.
McRoberts also delivered what proved to be the key dagger of the night, when he followed up a dramatic three-pointer by U. City’s Demonte Smith late in the third quarter, with an NBA-range three of his own that just beat the buzzer and gave Soldan a 45-34 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
U. City got as close as eight points at the start of the fourth, but a layup by Holmes and back-to-back slam dunks by Rashad Simmons gave Soldan back its double-digit lead, which the Tigers held for the rest of the night.
“We just gave them a different look,” Tatum said. “We started out in man-to-man, went to a 1-3-1, and then we did something new that we’ve been working on. They weren’t ready for it.”
Williams led the Lions with 13 points in his final high school game, and will go down as one of the all-time greatest scorers in U. City High School history.
And despite the loss, fans were still talking about his incredible three-pointer at the buzzer last Friday night that led U. City to its first district championship since 1986.
Video of the dramatic moment can be seen here, courtesy of KSDK-Newschannel 5 -- U. City championship buzzer beater over Westminster – 2/24/12.
“They’ll always have that,” Gammon said. “It was a great moment, and that’ll be a great memory that these guys and especially Tra will always have forever.”
The Lions finished the year with a 19-9 mark, and despite Wednesday’s loss will probably finish the year as one of the top 10 teams in the area when the final poll comes out after the state championships in Columbia next weekend.
“We had a great year,” Gammon said. “It was hard because things kept changing. We had so many changes with losing guys and picking up guys, that it was tough to try to put it all together. But I thought we did a good job and I’m proud of this team.”