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Staley defense locks down Blue Springs, sends Falcons to much-awaited trip to Show-Me Showdown

Helias also advances with win over William Chrisman.

By Chris Geinosky I Photo by Todd Nugent

INDEPENDENCE – Two years ago, the Staley boys basketball team earned the program’s first-ever berth to the state final four. But they never had the opportunity to make the trip when the Missouri State High School Activities Association cancelled the Show-Me Showdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now the Falcons get their chance at redemption. Thanks to another lockdown defensive effort this postseason, Staley held off Blue Springs, 54-41, in a Class 6 quarterfinal game featuring two of the best teams in the state Saturday night in front of a rocking crowd at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence.

“It means everything,” Staley head coach Chris Neff said. “A number of the guys in our locker room were there two years ago when we got that call from the state, and they told us we couldn’t go. It was a tough way to have your season end. I’m so happy for them to get another chance.”

As has been the case throughout the postseason, the Falcons’ defense stole the show and deserves much of the credit for another victory. No team has yet to score 50 points in a game against Staley (26-4 overall record and ranked No. 2 in the in SBLive Missouri Top 25 boys basketball rankings) in the postseason. That includes high-powered Blue Springs (24-6 and ranked No. 23), which was held more than 20 points under its season average.

“They just took us out of what we wanted to do,” Blue Springs head coach Adam Jones said. “Their defense took us out of our sets and our primary looks.”

After falling behind 7-4 in the opening minutes, Staley closed out the first quarter with 10 consecutive points to grab a 14-7 lead. Blue Springs scored only six points during the final 12 minutes of the first half and trailed 23-13 at halftime.

Staley senior Emmanuel Byrd, who has signed with NCAA Division II Washburn University, had a big first half. The 6-8 post scored all 12 of his points on 6-for-6 shooting before the intermission, highlighted by three slam dunks.

“I just want to do whatever we need to win, whether it’s points or rebounds,” Byrd said. “Tonight I just told myself to be aggressive, and the ball came my way a few times. It feels good to know we’re going to state. We’ve worked so hard for this after having it taken away from us last time.”

Blue Springs made adjustments after halftime, namely feeding the basketball to senior Ike Ezeogu in the paint. A 6-5 forward who has signed to played football at Iowa State, Ezeogu was nearly unstoppable in the third quarter, sparking a 22-12 run in the third quarter to tie the score at 35.

However, that’s when Staley’s defense took over again. With the game on the line, Blue Springs mustered only six points in the fourth quarter, all coming from the free-throw line.

“To hold a team like that without a field goal in the fourth quarter, my guys just amaze me,” Neff said. “I can’t say enough about how hard they play.”

In the decisive fourth quarter, reserve big man Cameron Manyawu sparked the Falcons on both ends of the court. Offensively, the 6-8 junior scored all seven of his points in the frame, which included his first made 3-pointer of the season that gave Staley the lead for good and capped by a tomahawk slam that widened the margin to 48-40 with two minutes left in the game. On defense, Manyawu had multiple blocked shots and forced a key steal that resulted in a fastbreak layup the other way that gave the Falcons a five-point lead, 42-37, when Blue Springs had the chance to potentially tie the score on the previous possession.

Junior post Kayden Fish matched Byrd by finishing with a team-high 12 points and was a big part of Staley’s defensive effort. Standout point guard Kyan Evans was limited to only eight points, all coming in the second half, but reserve guard Jared Lee stepped up to provide eight points, including five in the fourth quarter, off the bench.

Ezeogu, who averages 23 points per game, led Blue Springs with 15 points, but it’s worth noting he scored all of them during the Wildcats’ comeback in the third quarter. Mike Harrison added 11 points, and Kyle Bruce chipped in seven for Blue Springs.

Helias Catholic 70, William Chrisman 52

With five minutes left in the game, William Chrisman trailed by only three points, 49-46, and had a chance to inch closer before missing a layup on a 3-on-1 fastbreak. From there, the Crusaders completely took over.

Helias (17-13) busted out a 21-4 game-winning run in the ensuing 3 minutes, 44 seconds that opened a 20-point cushion on the way to a convincing 70-52 victory Saturday afternoon in the Class 5 quarterfinals.

“We knew they were a good basketball team, and they were going to keep coming at us,” Helias head coach Joe Rothweiler said. “Fortunately, we were able to handle their runs, keep them in check, and put them away.”

William Chrisman (21-8) scored the first six points of the second half to grab a 36-33 lead, but Helias answered with a 13-0 run to open a double-digit advantage, 46-36. When the Bears closed to within three points early in the fourth quarter, they watched the Crusaders rip off another 13-0 run.

Helias junior Desmond White was unstoppable all day as he ripped the nets for 42 points, scoring at will from both the perimeter and off the bounce. The star 6-2 guard who is receiving looks from a number of NCAA D1 schools in the region and recently took a visit to the University of Missouri, dropped in 27 points in the first half alone and single-handedly staked his team to a 33-30 halftime lead.

“I usually know I’m going to have a good game if I start hot in the first quarter,” said White, who exploded for a season-best 50 points in a victory against Columbia Hickman back in January. “The fans really got me going tonight. I fed off their energy.”

While White wore Batman’s cape for the day, Malcolm Davis played the role of Robin by adding 22 points, 18 in the second half. That dynamic duo unbelievably combined to account for all but six of the team’s total in the scoring column in the contest.

Senior Cameron Dickerson countered with 27 points for Chrisman, highlighted by a trio of 3-pointers, but he didn’t receive enough help. Fellow seniors Dane Herl (eight) and Jesse Minter (six) combined for only 14.