The Smith-Cotton Tigers fell in the third-place game of the Smith-Cotton/ McDonald’s Classic on Saturday, losing to Warrensburg 50-42.
The game was tied 19-19 at the half before Warrensburg opened the third quarter with a 17-5 run. Smith-Cotton was able to cut into the lead late in the quarter by going to a full-court press, causing three turnovers on three straight possessions which led to a Dalton Zaremba layup and a Chance Johnson 3-pointer. Even after taking the press off, Zaremba got a steal near mid-court and cruised in for a layup to make it 36-31 Warrensburg at the end of the third, but the visitors scored on four of their first five possessions of the fourth quarter and never looked back.
“They subbed and No. 32 (Dakota Jones) was out of the game,” said Smith-Cotton coach Ray Hughes. “With him out of the game they aren’t as effective at ball handling. He sets the table because he draws so much attention so we tried to take advantage of that substitution and we did. But he got back int he game and settled in.”
Jones scored 19 points for Warrensburg in the game on his way to tournament MVP honors, but in the first half against Smith-Cotton was held to six points, a pair of free throws early in the game, a layup midway through the first quarter and two more free throws late in the half.
“He’s incredibly patient,” Hughes said. “He knows how to score so it’s going to be hard to stop him from scoring, but I thought we did a good job of not making it easy and sending him to the foul line in the first half.”
Smith-Cotton scored 20 of its 42 points in the paint and got nine more from the foul line, often on fouls that were called near the basket.
“We felt we had a major inside advantage and we just weren’t able to execute how we wanted to,” Hughes said. “Just mentally we weren’t in the game as we needed to be.”
Smith-Cotton did have luck when they were able to get the ball into Jacob Bergman in the low post. The 6-6 junior scored 12 points, including seven in the second quarter, but Warrensburg began clamping down, challenging entry passes and knocking them away.
“With our movement and our motion offense, he’s got to want it when he’s open and they’ve got to get it to him when he’s open,” Hughes said. “Sometimes they’re wanting to give it to him and he’s standing there. Dante (Scroggins) as well, they have to get that to where they’re in sync and doing every movement with a purpose and we got away from that. We tried to isolate a little bit and move the ball around and it just didn’t work out.”
Neither team led by more than four points in a back-and-forth first half. After free throws from Jones, Bergman and Scroggins hit baskets in the paint to put Smith-Cotton ahead quickly. A 3-pointer from Johnson made it 7-5 Smith-Cotton before Jacob Terry tied the game on a putback.
Gunny Nappe put Warrensburg ahead 11-8 at the end of the first on a 3-pointer but it did not take long for Smith-Cotton to answer in the second as Bergman converted a 3-point play to tie the game. Nappe and Bergam traded baskets again and Nappe and Johnson traded free throws before Smith-Cotton opened up its largest lead of the game on a basket from Bergman and free throws from Blake Allee-Lightfoot to make it 19-15. Warrensburg then tied the game just before the half.
Johnson led Smith-Cotton with 14 points.
Smith-Cotton opened the tournament with a 53-50 win over Parkview before falling to Moberly in the semifinal on Friday.
The two teams will meet again Feb. 7 in Warrensburg and Feb. 28 at Smith-Cotton.
“It was a good three days for us to go through a district environment and a district atmosphere,” Hughes said. “Districts are not back-to-back days, you get days in between. This was a good war of attrition. We’ll go back and watch film and we’ll learn from it.”
Smith-Cotton will host Lebanon on Friday at the junior high.