Bennett from the Bleachers: Heartbreaking defeat ends incredible season for men’s basketball

Bennett Durando
Sports Columnist

BENNETT BLEACHERSStatesmen men’s basketball lives and plays by a motto, “TTW: Toughest Team Wins.” On Friday, Mar. 6, the team was dealt one of its toughest losses ever.

Webster was beat 53-51 by SLUH at the buzzer in the District Championship game at Robert’s Gym.

It was the second time this year the Statesmen were upset by the Junior Billikens, who won at their own place in January to hand a then 17-2 Webster team its first loss versus an in-state opponent.

The first game saw SLUH take control in the final minutes as Webster struggled to find another gear. This time, though, it was an outright battle down to the very last shot, a runner which SLUH guard Brandon McKissic swooshed in as time expired.

This game was gut wrenching. It was tough competitive Webster basketball at its best. But what it produced was the cruelest finish the Statesmen and their six seniors could have possibly faced.

Cam Hilton is one of six seniors on the men’s basketball team, which won its Conference for the fourth straight year but fell to SLUH in the District championship.  Photo by Bret Waelterman
Cam Hilton is one of six seniors on the men’s basketball team, which won its Conference for the fourth straight year but fell to SLUH in the District championship. Photo by Bret Waelterman

“I thought they were engaged, they were focused, I thought we took charges and made those types of effort plays,” said head coach Jay Blossom. Blossom, who became a 400-game-winner this year, called the lost his worst ever. “This one is probably, to be honest, number one. There have been other tough (losses) before, but right now this one’s fresh.”

Despite trailing for the better part of the last two quarters, Webster’s run to end the third had it down just a point with eight minutes to go. Senior Stephen Harris gave Webster the lead back with a three-point play to start the final quarter.

The Statesmen soon stretched their lead to 49-44 with under five minutes left. But after SLUH scored and Webster could only connect for one of two at the line, junior Matt Nester of the Bills made the last of his four threes, this one to pull within 50-49.

Webster again only converted one of two free throws, and SLUH tied it on the ensuing possession with just under three minutes to go.

Webster got the ball in a tie game with 1:35 left following senior Cam Hilton’s block, and intended to run out the clock for a last shot. The Statesmen had stalled as much as 1:09 this year, when junior Leland Bradford’s last second floater beat Hazelwood Central for the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament championship.

This time however, Harris was charged with a five second call with eight seconds left. After a SLUH timeout, McKissic was able to complete SLUH’s dramatics.

“We just weren’t planning on that happening,” Blossom said on the late turn of events. “They called Stephen for five, it’s not his fault at all, he played a great game. Then McKissic makes what was honestly a really tough shot.”

The loss finished an incredible year, which despite the early exit from the playoffs should be seen as a major success. The Statesmen finished the year 24-6 as a large group of seniors went out with a bang, having considerable success in multiple tournaments.

Along with being champions of the Webster Tournament and Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament in Meramec, the highlight of the year for Webster may have been its trip to Florida to participate in the City of Palms Tournament. Against some of the best teams in the country, the Statesmen went 2-2 and were given an early advantage in experience over Missouri foes. Without the helpful experience, the Statesmen probably would not have finished with a record as well as theirs was.

“They won 20 games for the twelfth consecutive year, and they won the conference for the fourth straight year,” Blossom said praisingly of the team’s efforts throughout the year.

The team will graduate seniors Alex Floresca, Sam Craig, Stu Hollansworth and Rob Thompson, along with Harris and Hilton. Floresca and Harris have both signed to play basketball at Division I schools — Floresca at the University of San Diego and Harris at Austin Peay.

“I feel awful for the seniors, that’s no way to go out,” Blossom said.

The 2015 Statesmen were a team capable of winning a state championship, and though in the end they didn’t make it out of districts, the excitement this particular team and its seniors brought to the table will be remembered for a long time at Webster Groves High School.


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