KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Maybe it was the long road trip for Heights. Or maybe Raytown South was just a little extra motivated after hearing all week that Heights was coming to town to run them out of the Avila University gym.
Whatever the case, Heights coach Joe Auer had no problem admitting something was off on Saturday night. And nearly 20 minutes after Heights edged Raytown South 54-48 at the Hy-Vee Shootout, Auer stood near the locker room and simply needed to inspect the stat sheet.
"Our game plan is never to have 19 turnovers," Auer said. "Collectively, as a team, we didn't take care of the ball very well."
So while Heights senior forward Perry Ellis displayed his versatile skill-set, finishing with 26 points and 12 rebounds, the Falcons could never feel totally comfortable against an athletic squad from Raytown South.
"A lot of people thought we weren't really going to be in the game," said Raytown South junior Diago Tyson, who kept the Cardinals close with 22 points. "I think we executed pretty well."
The night was supposed to serve as another opportunity for Ellis to bring the Heights experience to Kansas City, just 45 miles down the road from Ellis' future home in Lawrence.
The Falcons, the three-time defending 6A state champs, had started the season 3-0, while Raytown South was supposed to be a team still trying to etch out its identity.
And for the of crimson-and blue-clad fans tucked among the packed crowd in the Avila gym, Ellis' appearance was the show. That is, until the game didn't stick to the script.
In the opening half, Raytown South had little answer as Ellis made five of his first six shots and dropped in 12 points. Still, Raytown South kept the action at a reasonable tempo, staying within striking distance until late in the fourth quarter.
"We don't travel much," Auer said. "Really, it was our first road trip, and I thought we looked like it."
And when Raytown South cut the lead to 46-44 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, an upset suddenly didn't sound like a far-fetched plot twist. But Heights found a way to survive, controlling the glass in the final minute and icing the game at the free-throw line.
"It's a good atmosphere," Ellis said, "But it was just good to get this win before the new year."