Boys basketball Eagles haven’t beaten Blue Devils since 2010
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Everybody who has followed Brentwood High School boys basketball for at least a few years probably had the same thought last week as the Eagles prepared for their Jan. 21 game at Maplewood-Richmond Heights. We were thinking, “This could be the year.”
BHS had not beaten MRH in six years. It was February 2010 when Tywan Brooks, Taylor Dee, Andrew Erby and company upset the Blue Devils in the district semifinals. Since then the Eagles have lost six meetings in a row, never by less than 12 points and twice by more than 40.
But last Thursday before the game the Blue Devils didn’t look so unbeatable. With three-fourths of their players freshmen or sophomores, they were 1-12 and losing by an average margin of 27 points. Brentwood was a modest 4-7 but had lost to the two schools’ one common opponent, Lift for Life, by nine fewer points.
Of course, Maplewood’s gym was packed. The two student cheering sections filled opposite ends of the bleachers, closely eyed by nervous school administrators. The stage was set. Brentwood fans had to be thinking, “This could be the year.”
But it’s not. With the score tied and 7.4 seconds left in the game, MRH’s Ramone Agard passed in bounds from under his basket to Nate Grady-Liska, who caught the ball 10 feet outside the 3-point line. The senior dribbled toward the line and saw that it was protected by Brentwood freshman Cade Jones so he launched a jump shot 5 feet from the stripe. The ball swished the net just before time ran out. The Blue Devils won 51-48.
Brentwood players looked shell-shocked as the Devils and their fans piled on Grady-Liska in celebration. But after head coach Kevin Kullum and assistant Dennis Buckley spoke to the Eagles in the locker room, Buckley was in a pleasant mood.
“I told them that in my opinion we won that game,” Buckley said. “They played so hard, there’s nothing to be ashamed about, nothing. We made free throws, we boxed out, we rebounded. The effort was there from the tip-off to the end of the game. I tip my hat to the other team — they made a lucky 3-pointer.”
Halftime lead despite poor shooting
The game couldn’t have been much closer – the score was tied nine times and neither team ever led by more than 6. Brentwood trailed for the first 10 minutes before Skylar Sappington hit back-to-back 3-pointers to lead 14-12.
The Eagles entered halftime with a 4-point lead, their biggest so far, after Charles “Butters” Jones hit a jumper and Sappington threw a full-court pass to Jordon Tate for a bank-in. BHS’s biggest problem in the first half was missed shots. Its top two scorers, Butters Jones and Sappington, combined to make only four of 16 2-point attempts.
“I told them at halftime that the only reason the other team was still in the game was because we were missing shots,” said Buckley. “That’s how good our defense was. We had a 4-point lead at halftime but it really should have been 12 or 14. I told them to put that out of your minds and continue to play defense. The shots are going to fall.”
In the third period MRH went into a full-court press, got some turnovers and regained the lead. But in the final 2 minutes of the period the Eagles took control after Jordan McGehee’s layup, Justice Harris’s baseline drive and Tate’s back-to-back bank-ins.
With 6 minutes left in the game, the Eagles started to pull away with a Sappington free throw and a Jones steal and basket for a 5-point lead. Grady-Liska stopped the surge by tying it with a 3-point play of his own, but Butters Jones retook the lead, 41-39, with a baseline layup that had him pumping his fist to the BHS student cheering section. It would be the last lead of the night for Brentwood.
MRH scored twice to retake the lead but McGehee again got open underneath to tie it at 43. Butters Jones and Grady-Liska traded free throws to make it 45-45.
Agard’s 3-pointer with 1:08 left put MRH up 48-45. On Brentwood’s next two possessions Sappington coolly produced on three of four free-throw attempts to tie it with 46 seconds remaining. The Blue Devils then went into a delay and called a timeout with 7 seconds left to set up Grady-Liska’s game-winning shot.
Snow cuts Kullum’s trip short
Adding to the craziness of the game was that Kullum missed the entire first half. He was to be honored that night at his alma mater, Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. The school was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its 1995-96 team, for which Kullum averaged 11 points and six rebounds. Buckley said Kullum reached Tennessee but flights were canceled due to snow so he flew back to St. Louis in time to coach the second half of the MRH game.
Because the BHS-MRH contest was originally rescheduled from two nights earlier, Buckley didn’t learn he’d be the head coach until the morning of the game. And on top of that it was his first time coaching against MRH in Maplewood, in the gym where he played for the Blue Devils until graduating in 1992.
“It’s a little weird,” Buckley said, “but it’s been over 20 years since I walked these halls.”
Jan. 21: lost at MRH 51-48
Neither team ever led by more than 6 points and the score was tied five times in the final five minutes. Key stats: BHS made 11 more turnovers and nine fewer rebounds. BHS leaders: Skylar Sappington, 16 points (6-13 FG), 8 assists, 8 rebounds; Charles Jones, 14 points (5-16 FG); Justice Harris, 3 steals. MRH leaders: Nate Grady-Liska 16 points (6-14 FG); Ramone Agard, 13 points (7-17 FG); Khalib Becton, 11 rebounds.
Brentwood’s results — 4-8 as of Jan. 24
Nov. 30: beat Crossroads 63-23 in Valley Park Invitational
Dec. 3: lost to Kennedy 53-47 in Valley Park Invitational
Dec. 4: beat Principia 54-44 for 3rd place in Valley Park Invitational
Dec. 7: beat McKinley 69-26
Dec. 15: lost to Orchard Farm 73-66
Dec. 23: lost to Francis Howell 77-40 at MICDS Holiday Invitational
Dec. 26: lost to MICDS 78-61 at MICDS Holiday Invitational
Dec. 28: lost to Clayton 71-46 at MICDS Holiday Invitational
Jan. 5: lost to Lift for Life 66-53
Jan. 12: beat Crossroads 54-30
Jan. 14: lost to St. Pius X-Festus 58-43
Jan. 21: lost to MRH 51-48
Jan. 26, 6:30 p.m.: at Bayless (1-13)
Jan. 27, 6:30 p.m.: host Trinity (4-9)
Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m.: host Valley Park (10-2)
Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m.: at Crossroads
Feb. 4, 6:30 p.m.: at Principia
Feb. 9, 5:30 p.m.: at Hancock
Feb. 10, 7 p.m.: at John Burroughs
Feb. 11, 6 p.m.: at Cleveland NJROTC
Feb. 12, 6:30 p.m.: host Bayless
Feb. 16, 6 p.m.: at Valley Park
Feb. 17, 7 p.m.: host Hancock (senior night)
Class 3, District 4 playoffs not yet determined