2022 Bass Pro Tournament of Champions: Top performers from Thursday night's opening round

·5 min read

The opening round of the 2022 Bass Pro Tournament of Champions had plenty of the nation's and southwest Missouri's best putting on memorable performances.

Here were the top players on Thursday night:

A.J. Casey, Whitney Young

The Dolphins had an easy time with their first-round matchup, beating New Madrid County Central 57-32.

Casey scored 13 points and shot 60 percent from the floor. The Miami commit was all over the paint against the Eagles, showing off why he’s a top player on one of the best teams in the nation.

Matt Sommerville, Whitney Young

He is not currently college radars, but Sommerville is one of the Dolphin’s better assets. He dropped 13 against New Madrid County Central, tying Casey for the team-high.

If Whitney Young makes it to the championship game, Sommerville will have to be an integral part.

Elijah Whitley, Parkview

The Vikings had one of the best teams in the nation reeling after a half of basketball due in part to the heady play of Whitley.

The guard was involved in a hot-shooting start that caught Sierra Canyon off-guard. He finished the game with eight points and seven rebounds.

"I have some good chances to let the ball go and I just let it go,” Whitley said. “And I made my shots.”

While Sierra Canyon came away with a 63-46 win, Whitley helped the Vikings make some noise on a national stage.

Kijani Wright, Sierra Canyon

While the Trailblazers didn't put up big individual numbers, having to fight to stay with Parkview in the first half, Wright was a bright spot.

The 6-foot-9 forward is heading to USC next year, but in the tournament’s opening round, he had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

He’s a dominant presence in the paint and Parkview had no answer for him once he got going.

Amari Bailey, Sierra Canyon

247Sports Composite's No. 3 prospect played his first game of the season against Parkview Thursday night. He had been rehabbing a foot injury for several months. The UCLA commit had 16 points.

“Definitely you can see he’s trying to get the kinks out, and figure out exactly what he needs to do with this team,” head coach Andre Chevalier said. “This is a different group for him, and there’s a lot of new faces around him. He’s just trying to figure it out.”

Colin Ruffin, Nixa

Ruffin played the most minutes on the Eagle’s roster and put on a tremendous showing in Nixa’s 50-49 loss to Milton. He scored several really athletic baskets down the stretch to keep Nixa in the game and finished 21 points and seven rebounds.

“I think he does a great job,” Milton head coach Allen Whitehart said. “I say this all the time — it's about your arena. He’s really good. He controls tempo, he takes contact, he fends off he gets to his spots. Somebody needs to be looking at him.”

Kael Combs, Nixa

Nixa’s two-sport star had a good night against Milton, putting in 12 points. He also played on the bottom part of Nixa’s zone, which held Milton big-man LT Overton to six points. Overton weighs 265 pounds and is considered one of the best football prospects in the nation at defensive end.

“I thought our zone looked really good,” Nixa head coach Jay Osborne said. “You can criticize zone or not, but it gets people out of their comfort zone. I thought we did a nice job rotating in it.”

Bruce Thornton, Milton

He hit the biggest shot of the tournament so far. With time expiring and Milton down 49-47 to Nixa, Kanaan Carlyle tossed the ball back to Thornton near half-court. He pulled up and nailed a 3 to send his team to the semifinals.

Thornton was Milton’s best player for most of the night, scoring 21 points and grabbing four rebounds. The Ohio State commit scored some really tough baskets on a physical Nixa defense.

“(Thornton) is a phenomenal player — has been for four years,” Milton head coach Allen Whitehart said. “Making plays like that has been part of his DNA since he was a freshman and he walked through our doors.”

DeShawn Harris-Smith, Paul VI

Harris-Smith is a strong, versatile scorer who possesses a good handle and plays good defense. He’s really an all-around player for the Panthers. He can shoot the pill, take you off the dribble to the basket and finish with either hand, post you up and even dunk on you.

You don’t see such a well-rounded scoring profile like his in high school very often. He played a key role in Paul VI’s win over Catholic, finishing the game with 18 points before fouling out.

Zach Howell, Catholic

What can you say about Howell that hasn’t already been said? He has an extremely high motor, never stops moving off-ball and is a lights-out shooter.

He put up 30 points in Catholic’s loss to Paul VI, but it may have been the most impressive performance of the day.

He was constantly draining threes from Curry range with a defender draped on him. He’s carried on his incredible Blue and Gold tournament performance into the Tournament of Champions with ease.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Bass Pro Tournament of Champions: Top performers from opening round

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