By Mike Phillips
Close games are often decided at the free throw line.
Boonville’s Pirates made more from the charity stripe than the Smith-Cotton Tigers shot to ruin S-C head coach Ray Hughes’ debut with a 54-47 win Tuesday night at the S-C gym.
Boonville made 16 of 25 from the free throw line, while the Tigers shot 12 and made just five. In the last 59 seconds, S-C was just 1-for-5 while the Pirates made five of nine in the last 55 seconds to hold onto the win.
The line has been like a nightmare for the Tigers in the last few years. Last year, S-C sank less than 50 percent from the line in former coach Kevin Schnicker final season at the helm.
Hughes took over the Tigers this season after serving as an assistant coach of one of S-C’s old arch enemies, the Jefferson City Jays for the past 12 seasons.
For more than half of Tuesday’s season opener, Hughes’ team played competitively particularly on defense. Offensively, the Tigers got a spark out of their high-post offense.
Hughes rotated freshman Chance Johnson, junior Spencer Ruckman and senior Dalton Christian from the high post to the top of the key where they were almost unstoppable from three-point land.
Johnson hit on three treys and nine points in the first half. He finished with four treys and 14 points. Christian gunned in both of his two treys in the second half and finished with a team-high 16 points. Forward Gerald Olinger tossed in 11 with two putbacks off the offensive glass and a three-point play in the fourth quarter that got the Tigers within 48-47 with just over two minutes left in the game.
However, the Tigers couldn’t handle the Pirate pressure in the late going, threw the ball away a lot, missed free throws and were forced to foul down the stretch in the waning seconds.
In a back-and-forth contest, S-C senior Zach Wolf nailed a trey from the top of the key to put the Tigers up 12-9 after the first quarter, a period in which the Tiger hit three treys. Olinger hit from the free throw line to stretch the Tiger lead to 14-9 early in the second quarter. Boonville went on a 6-0 run to take the lead 15-14.
The game see-sawed from there.
Wolf completed a three-point play at the end of the half to give S-C a 24-21 lead at halftime.
Boonville adjusted their defense to start the second hah, switching from a zone to a man-to-man and took away S-C’s high post offense and forced the Tigers to increase their tempo. Boonville led 40-36 after three quarters. Christian hit from the top of the key and then from the left corner to tie the game 40-40 early in the fourth.
The game turned sloppy with neither team scoring for four minutes. Finally by hitting free throws, the Pirates went on a 7-0 run to lead 47-40. S-C got within 48-47 but could never get the lead back and had to foul.
Damario Walker led Boonville with 19 points. Jay Barnhart added 12 and Ta’vius Brazil 11.
Boonville made it a clean sweep with a 65-41 win in the junior varsity boys’ game. Photos by Randy Kirby, Sedalia News Journal.