Trapped in an offensive set, Keoni Hale, a 6-foot-3 superior athlete with plenty of bounce, occasionally appears to be all potential energy and no release.
He jumps for Smith-Cotton track and field in the spring, and found space to fly Wednesday in a 69-57 victory over Moberly at the S-C/McDonald’s Classic in Sedalia.
Hale scored about half of his 19 points on steals that led to breakaway attacks, exchanging cautious screens, passes and pops for fast-break, uncaged jams. He credited head coach Bill Barton for the Tigers’ fluid, opportunistic offense.
“Coach Barton, he’s won more games than we know of,” Hale said. “His playstyle is very different … We’ve always been a set-plan team through these last three years. Coach Barton, he’s more of a motion type. It was new coming out. We’ve never been taught this.”
Zion Buckner led Smith-Cotton (5-6) with 20 points and Bryson Couch had 14 with a trio of threes. Tied at 47 entering the fourth quarter, the Tigers outscored Moberly 18-2 before one of two Conner Stice free throws ended the run with 1:18 remaining.
Smith-Cotton and the Spartans exchanged leads through the first half, and Moberly wiped a 5-point deficit in under a minute to begin the third quarter.
Hale said Barton warned the Tigers to keep pace with a hungry Moberly offense after the break, and encouraged him and Buckner to defend aggressively.
“We saw that they were not a good dribbling team,” Hale said. “We saw the way they were dribbling and coach said, ‘Keoni, you’re a great defender and have been. Just go steal the ball.’”
After a fast-break slam from Hale, S-C took a 54-47 lead over Moberly with a Derek Gehlken 3-pointer on Couch’s assist.
The Tigers’ fourth-quarter run was only interrupted by blood on the S-C home whites. Its source was a Moberly player unaware he was bleeding.
Rohokist Amadou led the Spartans with 17 points, scoring eight in the first quarter, Braedan Wetrich scored 13 and Daran Gaines finished with 11.
The Tigers host Webster Groves 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia to conclude its pool play.
Rock Bridge, which defeated Warrensburg 69-41 Wednesday to open the Gold pool, host Parkview 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2