With the temperature sky-rocketing into 90 degree weather outside, the Cedar Valley CourtKings stepped into the Salvation Army Gym in Springfield on Sunday afternoon to try and beat the heat and fight for another road win.
With a smaller roster for the game, the nine CourtKings arrived in the Illinois capital city to take on the Springfield Panthers (5-3), a squad that has of late been in close competition for the Southwest Division lead with the Chicago Fury. Coming off a miraculous win over the Chicago Legends last weekend in Chicago, the CourtKings looked determined to win their final game of the current three game road trip. Springfield, known for their fast pace and quick transition, forced the CourtKings to devise a game plan for the team to push a quick transition back to defense and to share the ball while keeping a steady offensive pace against a Panthers team that has scored over 100 points in every game this season.
In the first, the ball was well shared as seven CourtKings scored, with Brady Burford leading the charge with 11 points coming from three layups. On the other side, Springfield’s Michael Chandler responded to the CourtKings paint play six layups of his own. Three point baskets by Anthony James, Mack Johnson, Aundre Hicks, Marcus Smith, and Burford added to the CourtKings first quarter success as they led 35-26 at the end of the opening frame.
Going into the second period, Raijon Kelly began to heat up with eight points as he and Burford swapped field goals. However, three made shots from beyond the arc by Springfield’s Denzell Walker and 12 more points from Chandler helped push the Panthers to a 38-21 quarter over the defending champions and gave the home team a 64-56 halftime lead.
As the second half began, the game plan of sticking to a quick defensive transition and good ball movement began to show signs of a breakthrough. 12 points by James and seven by Hicks help cut into the deficit as Walker and Chandler continued to run the Panthers offense from inside the paint and from beyond the three point line. Outscoring the Panthers by two in the period, the CourtKings cut the Springfield lead down to six to trail 96-90 heading into the final quarter of action.
In the final 12 minutes, the defense kicked into high gear and began to shut down the Panthers attack, forcing a number of turnovers early and throughout the period and scoring of the stolen ball. Hick’s late three point basket and free throws by Alex Houston and Smith helped seal the CourtKings comeback victory over the Panthers, 126-116. Burford led the way with 28 points, eight rebounds, and one assist, while Aundre Hicks ended with 24 points and nine rebounds. James scored 21, Kelly sank 18, and Smith added 11 points to the win.
With the three game road trip now in the books, the undefeated, 7-0 CourtKings head home this coming Saturday, June 2 to take on T.C. Elite at 7:30pm at the Cedar Valley SportsPlex. This will be the first of three meeting between the CourtKings and Elite.