RAVENWOOD, Mo. — The Northeast Nodaway Bluejays were not going to let West Nodaway all-time leading scorer Tyler Blay beat them on Thursday night. Fortunately for the Rockets, freshman Kayden Conn proved that he was up to the task.
The Bluejays (16-8) face-guarded Blay all night with Lane Dack attached to the explosive offensive threat throughout the game, but that allowed more space for the other Rockets and Conn took advantage with 25 points in a 72-67 win in Ravenwood.
“That is a credit to all of our guys really, starting with Tyler,” West Nodaway coach Brandon Phipps said. “If they are going to face-guard him, Tyler says, ‘OK, I’m going to run around, make you tired, and I’m not going to get tired.’ Our other guys are just going to play basketball off of that, continue to attack the rim and continue to do what we do.”
The Rockets (11-11) took an 11-5 lead early on a basket from junior Dawson Fast, who finished with 14 points and is excelling as the team’s primary post-up option after a season-ending injury to senior Grant Atkins.
“I’ve always played everywhere, but I’ve always liked the post more so I’ve worked on that,” Fast said. “I was a guard once, but I can play anywhere.”
Northeast Nodaway’s Dylan McIntyre did his best to keep the Jays in the game most of the night and answered with a basket. Conn’s first of seven 3-pointers gave the momentum back to the Rockets, and Bracxten Rohlmeier scored the final four points of the quarter to push the West Nodaway lead to 18-7.
“I felt like I was shooting well in warmups,” Conn said. “It was just one of those nights.”
McIntyre scored to open the second quarter, but Conn’s second 3-pointer of the night followed by three free throws by Rohlmeier to extend the margin to 24-9. McIntyre scored again, but Conn followed with three-straight 3-pointers. A Rohlmeier free throw made it 34-11.
“Kayden is a guy that when he gets going, he is going,” Phipps said. “He shoots with confidence, he plays with confidence and his confidence just comes from the work he puts in.
“He is a freshman stepping up in a game like this, a conference game. He just played with a little swagger about him and I’m really proud of him.”
The Bluejays fought back with six quick points to draw back within 17. Back-to-back McIntyre scores made the margin 36-22, before Rocket point guard Hunter Dawson ended the half with a pair of free throws.
The teams traded baskets throughout the third quarter and early portion of the fourth quarter with neither team scoring consecutive baskets until a pair of Tyler Blay free throws made the score 62-44 midway through the fourth quarter.
That is when the Bluejays made their move with a 3-pointer from McIntyre sparking a 10-0 run to get the lead down to 62-54. Fast broke the streak with a foul shot, but Ben Boswell and McIntyre answered with baskets and the lead was down to 63-58 with just under two minutes to go.
Dawson went 1-of-2 from the stripe and Boswell scored on the other end to trim the lead to four points with 1:21 left.
The excellent shooting of West Nodaway paid dividends in the final 80 seconds with the Rockets closing the game 8-for-8 in the final 1:20 while Northeast Nodaway was just 2-for-6. Dawson was 4-for-4 in that stretch while Blay and Conn each went 2-for-2.
“We talk a lot about, ‘you get what you work for, not what you wish for,’ so in a moment like that, it just comes back to the work you put in,” Phipps said. “Go back to the basics — ‘I’m going to shoot a free throw here, I’ve shot 1,000 of these this year, and I’m going to knock it in when it counts.’”
The Rocket lead grew back to nine before a free throw by Colton Swalley and a 3-pointer by Auston Pride got the final margin back to five.
“I was proud of them,” Northeast Nodaway coach Rory Jackson said of the rally. “You look back at all of our losses, and we’ve dug ourselves holes in those losses — the Stanberry loss, the St. Jose Christian loss, we were down 20-some — and we always climb back in.
“Our thing right now is that they need to understand going into district time is that you have to play that hard all four quarters. You can’t take quarters off or plays off, especially against a team like that who can shoot the ball so well.”
In addition to Conn’s 25 and Fast’s 14, Dawson finished with 12 points, Rohlmeier had 10, Blay had nine, and Wyatt Ingraham had two.
The Bluejays were led by McIntyre’s 24 points. Boswell added 19 points while Pride had 13, Dack had six, Swalley had four and Zach Pride had one.
Both teams now turn their attention to the Class 1, District 16 Tournament which begins on Saturday. Northeast Nodaway, the third seed, will host sixth-seeded Nodaway-Holt at 2 p.m.
“Hopefully, we can learn from it, move on and be ready to go on Saturday,” Jackson said.
Fifth-seeded West Nodaway will be on the road against fourth-seeded South Holt at 2 p.m., hoping to earn a semifinal matchup on Tuesday with top-seeded Mound City.