There weren’t traces of blue uniforms setting sail past the Smith-Cotton Tigers for layups in the seventh-place game of the Smith-Cotton McDonald’s Classic Saturday afternoon.
Instead, for two and a half quarters, the Tigers set the pace in a 56-53 win over the Eldon Mustangs.
“Last night, (Kansas City) Southwest came in here with 11 good athletes that ran right past us,” said S-C Coach Ray Hughes of Friday night’s 76-44 loss to the Indians of the Independent League in Kansas City. “We couldn’t keep up with them.”
However, the Mustangs, who started the season under the tutelage of former S-C head coach Jimmy Lincoln, provided some welcome relief for the Tigers who were blown out in the first two rounds of the eight-team tournament.
“They didn’t have the athletes that Southwest had,” said Hughes. “They didn’t press us. I don’t think they even half-court trapped us the whole game. It was a different dynamic from last night.”
After missing their first two shots, the Tigers started getting their feet set and their shoulders squared to the basket. Spencer Ruckman, Chance Johnson and Dalton Christian all hit from 3-point land and Zach Wolf hit from the baseline as the Tigers roared out to an 11-2 lead.
S-C, who improved to 4-8 on the season, led 11-5 after the first quarter.
Eldon, 7-5 on the year, went on a 6-0 run to start the second quarter and tied the game at 11-11.
Christian, who led all scorers with 22 points and was named to the All Tournament Team, gave the lead back to the Tigers at 13-11 but Eldon answered to tie it and Christian scored again to give the lead back to S-C at 15-13.
S-C was patient and methodical on offense, a pace that Hughes wanted.
“We don’t necessarily want to slow the tempo,” said Hughes. “We want to be opportunistic and take the layup when they give it to us. We want to dictate the tempo.”
A three-point play by Thomas Kiegshauser put Eldon back on top 16-15.
A bucket by Wolf, one by Brady Ritzert and two by Christian got the Tigers rolling again to a 23-21 lead but Eldon rallied to a 26-23 halftime advantage.
Fouls were starting to take a toll on the Mustangs as three of their players had four fouls by the end of the third quarter.
Eldon was whistled for 21 fouls and S-C made 12 of 21 from the stripe. The
Tigers were called for 18 fouls and the Mustangs made 12 of 18 from the line.
Eldon had a 38-35 lead near the end of the third quarter, but Johnson made two charity tosses to get the Tigers within 38-37 after three quarters.
It was time for S-C to make their move toward a win.
Wolf made a jumper just inside the free throw line. Christian scored, then grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. He made one of two free throws to put S-C up 43-38. Eldon got in the double bonus early in the second half.
Eldon got no closer than three the rest of the way. The Tigers led 54-48 on a jumper by Wolf with two minutes left in the game. Wolf scored six of his 12 points in the fourth quarter with a trey.
Christian led all scorers with 22 points and a trey and made five of 11 free throws. Wolf added 12 and Johnson 11 with two treys.
Chris Hulsey led Eldon with 16 points and Kiegshauser added 15.
The more things change in the S-C Tournament, the more they stay the same. The Rock Bridge Bruins won the championship for the seventh straight year, beating Springfield Parkview 58-55 in the title game. Branson won the third-place game over Moberly 53-21 and Kansas City East won the consolation title, beating Kansas City Southwest EEC 62-52.