The Jackson Indians Boys Varsity Basketball program made some changes to the culture of the program this season, and it payed off in spades. Focusing on hard-nosed defense made them very frustrating to play against and led to their best finish in nearly a century. And laid a foundation for the future.
Taking on a brutally tough schedule, the Indians finished with a 21-11 record, which was the most wins for the program since 2015, and made it all the way to the State Semifinals for the first time since 1934.
How did they get there?
Jackson started off the season red hot, winning 11 of their first 14 games. They took second in the SEMO Conference Tournament, second in the SE Missourian Christmas Tournament and second in the Lindbergh Flyer Tournament. Then the Tribe hit a bit of a lull.
For a month, from mid-January to mid-February, the Indians played a stretch of ten games where they traded off wins and losses. They still played .500 ball, but not being able to string wins together can be frustrating for a club. Still, Jackson stuck to their game plan, and then the wins started to come in bunches.
They were playing their best basketball when it counted most and made a dramatic run through the District Tournament. After destroying Oakville in the first round, that revamped Jackson defense really came in to play as they beat Lindbergh 38-37 before downing Kirkwood 39-37 in the Class 6 Final.
Once the district was wrapped up, they took on Eureka in the State Sectionals and stymied the Wildcats with a classic Jackson 40-36 victory.
Then came the State Semifinals. It was the Indians’ first trip to the Final Four since 1934, but they would have to take on a juggernaut. The Staley Falcons, ranked number one in the state all season, showed why they were so tough. They beat Jackson 68-42 and went on to win the Championship. Still, it was a solid effort against a 30-2 team that was seemingly destined to win it all.
The Tribe wrapped up their season in the third place game against the Trojans of Troy Buchanan. It was another classic defensive battle, but Jackson came up just short, falling 40-32. Still, that meant a fourth place finish overall, and concluded one heck of a season for the Indians. These Jackson boys should be extremely proud of their accomplishments this year.
Finishing 21-11, they played 14 games against teams with at least 20 wins. That is an extremely tough schedule for any team to navigate, so to make it as far as they did is quite a feat. They accomplished that by allowing a mere 45 points per game, the best mark since 2008. Don’t sleep on their offense though, as they put up 58 PPG, the best total since 2018.
This team seemed to really gel as a cohesive unit, which was why they were able to attain so much success. Guard Blayne Harris and Center Clayton Ernst were relied upon heavily in the scoring department, and Ernst was a double-double threat every game. Outside shooters Kaedmon Winborne and Steven Schneider were also key factors, along with Judd Thoma, who all came up big down the stretch.
The Indians will miss Ernst, Schneider, Winborne and Grant Borgfield next year, as the Seniors are headed off to the next level, but the team still returns a lot of talent. Thoma and Harris will be back next year, along with a crop of Juniors and Sophomores ready to play a bigger role… and buy into the Jackson system.
Culture changed. Foundation laid.
Congratulations to all the Indians and their coaching staff on a fantastic 2022-23 season.