TITLE FIGHT: Jayhawks top Wildcats in battle of TRL unbeatens



January 31, 2017 - 12:00 AM

YATES CENTER — Monday night’s game between Jayhawk Linn and Yates Center could easily be deemed the biggest game of the Three Rivers League boys’ basketball season and for two quarters it lived up to that hype.
In the third quarter, the Jayhawks flexed their muscle and were able to put the Wildcats away and set the stage for a 56-40 victory in a battle of the Three Rivers League’s final two unblemished teams in conference play.
“Fifty-six points is an explosion for us,” Jayhawk Linn coach Barry Spitzenberger said of his offense.
The Wildcats seemed to be in good shape heading into halftime. Sophomore forward Aaron King heated up in the second quarter with ten points in that quarter alone and the Wildcats built a 22-16 advantage at the break.
In the third quarter the game completely flipped and the Jayhawks took control.
“They came out and wanted it more,” Yates Center coach Tanner Davis said. “I told the guys at halftime that we needed to come out and hit them in the mouth, but they hit us instead. Give it to Jayhawk, they are a really good team.”
Jayhawk Linn went on a 17-0 run to begin the third quarter and turned a six-point deficit into a 11-point advantage win less than five minutes of game time.
“That was probably our best defensive quarter of the year when you consider the opponent,” Spitzenberger said. “They have a lot of offensive firepower.”
The spurt knocked the Wildcats off balance and Yates Center couldn’t find an answer as Davis shuffled players in and out of the lineup to try and find a spark.
It appeared that spark might happen with less than three minutes to go in the quarter.
Backup point guard Nolan Jones stepped in and drew a charge in the lane and the crowd and Wildcat bench erupted for the play. On the next possession, Wildcat junior Josh King scored to cut the margin to 33-24.
The momentum didn’t last though and the Jayhawks scored the final six points of the quarter to finish a 23-2 run in the period.
In the fourth, the Wildcats tried to rally, but every time they seemed like they were going to make a run, Jayhawk Linn had the answer.
“We talk a lot about playing with poise,” Spitzenberger said. “We did that today.”
The Jayhawks kept the Wildcats at arm’s length the entire quarter and cruised to a 56-40 win.
It wasn’t hard to spot the best player on the floor on Monday night. Jayhawk Linn junior Brandon Gray controlled the game from start to finish and led the team in scoring with 33 points.
“Without question,” Spitzenberger said when asked if this was Gray’s best game of the year. “He brought that extra aggression tonight on both ends of the floor,”
Spitzenberger says that his star was looking forward to a match up with Yates Center’s star Aaron King.
“King really hurt him last year and I think he took that a little personally,” Spitzenberger said. “I think Brandon really rose up to that challenge.”
Davis agrees.
“Gray is a good player,” Davis said. “He can go outside and just when you think you stop him outside, he heads inside. He is just a good all-around player. He is a force to be reckoned with.”
King finished with a team-high 17 points, but Spitzenberger was very happy with how his group limited the Yates Center star to six points under his season average of 23 a night.
“Bryce Nation did a really good job on him,” Spitzenberger said. “We tried to just stay basic and not gamble too much defensively. Bryce is a good on-ball defender and he can stay in front. Even though Aaron hit some shots, you just have to tip your hat to him. We just wanted to hold him under 30.”

The Wildcats host Crest today.
“The good thing about having back-to-back games is that we don’t really have time to think about this one,” Davis said. “We have to come right back tomorrow and play Crest. Hopefully we can turn things back around and go on a run.”