Chris Buckner could not have been more thrilled to take the court with his Hannibal Pirates teammates during an 82-73 loss to Boonville on Tuesday night at Korf Gymnasium.

Chris Buckner could not have been more thrilled to take the court with his Hannibal Pirates teammates during an 82-73 loss to Boonville on Tuesday night at Korf Gymnasium. 

The senior forward, a new face on the squad, transferred from Springfield Southeast in Springfield, Illinois, this school year and was forced to sit out until this point in the season.

When Buckner finally received the green light to play, he made the most of his debut, scoring 18 points on the night to provide his team with a timely jolt. 

“Once I was finally on the court,” he said, “I had so much energy. I was so excited. I was in practice, working with my team, but it was frustrating for me. So I wanted to be a presence off the bench.” 

Buckner netted 12 points in the first half to spark Hannibal (2-10, 0-4 North Central Missouri Conference) to a 42-40 halftime lead over Boonville (11-4, 4-2) in the battle of the Pirates.

“When you've got a team coming in here 11-4 with the winning tradition that Boonville has and players that are really skilled, to be able to hang and even have them down at half is huge for us,” Hannibal coach Doug Coleman said.

The home Pirates remained ahead by six points early in the third quarter — close enough to smell their first home victory of the season but still needing a lockdown defensive effort down the stretch to secure it.

A 37-point night from Boonville senior Riley Lang, including 22 in the second half, spoiled the party. The visiting Pirates took control of the game in the third quarter and maintained a 64-54 lead into the fourth. They held on to win by nine points.

“We thought we would pull it out, but we fell short,” Hannibal senior Noah Zahn said. “It kind of got away from us. It was a tough loss.” 

Sophomore Dezi Jones dropped in 31 points to lead Hannibal, making one 3-pointer each period to keep pace. Wyatt Waelder scored seven points, while John Trenhaile had six and Devias Douglas netted five.

Despite the game’s outcome, Coleman said his program took an important step forward and played with the intensity it will take to compete against top-caliber opponents. 

“The band was rocking, the student section was great,” he said. “We had great support. I just wish we had a win, but the bottomline is that the energy was really good in the building tonight.”

The 73 points on the board for Hannibal were the most the team has scored in a contest all season. 

Lots of that credit should be given to Buckner, Zahn said. 

“He has waited his turn,” Coleman said of Buckner. “He sat out with academic ineligibility first quarter, worked hard in practice, chipped away, learned his stuff, and then the first time he got a great shot with 18. It was a phenomenal, phenomenal memory for us and our program. Every night, you're looking for someone off the bench to spark you, to be that sixth man, that seventh man, and Chris did that tonight.”

Buckner said he intends to be a piece in Hannibal's puzzle that can push the team to a turnaround in the final month of the regular season. 

“We've got a lot of potential,” he said. “I've taken it upon myself to be a leader on the court, a general, a voice, to help other players out, basically. It feels good, but there's a lot of work to do.” 

That work continues at 7:45 p.m. on Friday, when Hannibal hosts conference foe Marshall. 

“Marshall is a really skilled group,” Coleman said. “They're kind of like us, 2-9, struggling, but have played a pretty tough schedule. We're going to have two teams that are very, very scrappy, very athletic. We have to just focus on our habits and our game plan.”