by John Unrein
You could cut the figurative tension with a knife inside of Truman High School’s Gym on Thursday, February 28th. The Eagles would score 35 second half points against the Jaguars, coming up just short in their 57-55 Class 5 District 14 matchup.
Eagles Head Boys Basketball Coach Andy Herbert was confident his team would be able to compete despite being the smaller school by enrollment.
“We expected to win that game. I told the team afterwards that when you give it your best and come out on the wrong end you tip your hat and know that you can be without regret in having given it your best shot. I am proud of this group of kids and the way they competed tonight. They left everything on the floor.”
Neither team could get into an offensive rhythm in the first half. Turnovers, fouls, and strong defense by both teams led to the Jaguars being ahead 26-20 at the half. It was a physical basketball game with players on the floor multiple times and neither side being able to clearly exert their will during the first two quarters of play.
The opening of the second half saw determined play by the Eagles. They consistently were able to defeat full court pressure by the Jaguars who were trying to slow down Grain Valley’s ability to get back into the game. Junior Guard Caden Matlon and Sophomore Forward Cole Keller provided the bulk of scoring in a frenzied half. Each would go on to lead their team in scoring with 18 points.
Junior Forward Gavin Oyler also provided a post presence on defense. He drew the assignment of guarding Jaguar Sophomore Forward Jaylon McDaniel. Oyler gave up height and size and not much else in the block to McDaniel, who is a load in the paint. Evidence of this was seen when Oyler blocked a shot in the post with 5:49 left in the third quarter.
Grain Valley was able to shave the lead in the second half by scoring on drives and successful baskets in the paint. Augmenting their ability to gain ground were made free throw attempts after being fouled on successful scoring attempts. Examples of this included Keller scoring off an inbound pass under the basket with 3:41 left in the 3rd quarter. Matlon also provided a nifty fingertip layup, taking off just inside the free throw line as time expired in the 3rd quarter.
Matlon continued his assault on the basket down the stretch in the 4th quarter. Especially, after Keller fouled out with 4:26 left in the game. Matlon made five different drives to the goal for points or free throw attempts with 3 minutes or less left in the game. This would include a made circus layup and subsequent free throw with :06 left that brought the Eagles within two points of the Jaguars.
Both Matlon and Keller offered their thoughts after the game.
“Late in the year you gain the reality that you are competing for guys on this team so that their season doesn’t end. I wanted to work my rear end off just trying to get one more game. My confidence has improved and that has allowed me to help my teammates,” Keller said.
“That I was able to contribute to this team tonight meant the world. We wanted that win not just for ourselves, but for our seniors. We did not want this to be our last game. We wanted to keep playing for them,” Matlon said.
The Eagles boys basketball team finishes the season 16-11. They say goodbye to group of well-respected seniors that include Jesse Scholtz, Kevin Gutierrez, Brendan Shafer, and Nicholas Brown. The future should continue to be bright for the Eagles as they return six current juniors and one sophomore for next year to a squad that proved they could compete in the Suburban Conference during their inaugural season.
Junior Guard Caden Matlon prepares for a drive to the basket.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Sophomore Forward Cole Keller attempts a shot at the basket.
Photo credit: Valley News staff