Last Saturday, while most of you were probably working on senior papers, cramming for finals or perhaps watching Butler upset top-ranked Indiana, Shawnee Mission East played the second-best team in the state of Missouri.
And they won. In a game that was tighter than those Mancer Dancer uniforms the team wore in the pep assembly on Thursday, East edged out Columbia Rock Bridge for a 59-58 victory, their fifth of the season.
Heading into the game, East was ranked fifth in the metro by the Kansas City Star for their class. While they might not move up from that spot if none of the higher rank teams lose, they have earned their ranking with this win. When I asked Head Coach Shawn Hair about his schedule this year, he named Columbia Rock Bridge as the toughest team East would face this year.
On paper, I can see where he got that estimate. Rock Bridge is a traditional contender in Missouri basketball, and heading into this year, they seemed to have another quality team, led by junior point guard and Creighton commit Nick Norton. Norton and sophomore teammate Ryan Kreklow both play premier with East senior Vance Wentz in the off-season, which presented an interesting match up for Saturday’s game and, perhaps, added motivation for Vance to play well.
And play well he did. Vance had his best game of the season, easily scoring in double figures and sinking the game-winning free throw with four seconds left in the fourth quarter. Vance had been fairly quiet the weekend before in the Lancers’ first three wins in the ARC Madness Tournament. He even began the year 0-8 from behind the three-point arc. But on Saturday, Vance showed us why he’s headed to play division one basketball at Montana State University next year. He acted as the catalyst behind the Lancer attack, making plays on offense and hitting his shots like we know he can.
But Vance was certainly not alone on the offensive end. Senior and fellow four-year starter Zach Schneider added another solid, efficient offensive performance. Schneider has really impressed me this year. He’s continued to play at the high level he reached towards the end of his junior campaign and has done so consistently. If Vance starts playing more like he did on Saturday, he, Schneider and sophomore Lucas Jones should form a formidable big three on offense. Jones threw in another good game, although most of his production came on defense and from the foul line.
I would be remiss to mention the contributions from the backcourt against Rock Bridge. Senior point guards Jackson Sublette and Connor McGannon stepped up and for the most part handled the pressure from Rock Bridges’ guards well, limiting the turnovers in a way that surprised and impressed me. Hanna provided an offensive spark early on with a handful of jumpers in the first quarter. On defense, the Lancer guards held the offensive penetration by the quick Rock Bridge guards to a respectable minimum, although they had a tough time stopping Norton, who sank jumpers seemingly at will.
I’m gonna be honest: I did not expect East to keep up with Columbia Rock Bridge, let alone beat them. And I didn’t expect them to win the tournament the previous weekend, either. Game after game, they have surpassed my expectations, set low by three years spent watching East lose. They’ve been an absolute delight to watch thus far, but I’m only cautiously optimistic. I’ve seen enough East teams show promise and squander that promise.
So here’s my challenge to this team: don’t waste your talent. It’s clear you guys have loads of it. Make sure you don’t waste it. Don’t get content. Don’t get cocky. Play with a grudge. Play with a chip on your shoulder, to use a tired phrase. Play hard, play smart, play good basketball. Play fifth-in-the-metro basketball.
Show the rest of us what you guys can do.