By Eric Ingles
Democrat Sports Reporter
Everything went right in the first half for the Smith-Cotton Tigers and nothing went right in the second half, as Lebanon rallied to beat the Tigers 69-65 on Friday at the Smith-Cotton Junior High gym.
The Tigers led by as many as 17 points before the Yellowjackets chipped away at the lead.
Lebanon pressed for much of the first half, but it was ineffective. Smith-Cotton turned the ball over just five times in the half. Not all of those were related to the full-court pressure.
Often when the Yellowjackets pressed, the result was a wide open layup for the Tigers on the other end. But in the second half, the press worked as Smith-Cotton turned the ball over 11 times.
“It’s the press we’ve always seen,” said Smith-Cotton coach Ray Hughes. “It’s the same press we were breaking in the first half. They didn’t change anything about it.”
Other than a Lebanon basket on the first possession of the game and a brief 9-8 Yellowjackets lead midway through the first, the Tigers never trailed until a Joshua Archer steal and a layup with 1:07 to play in the game.
After that, Lebanon hit 3 of 8 free throws, as Smith-Cotton went to the free throw line three times and came up empty and missed a pair of 3-pointers as Lebanon closed the game on a 13-0 run.
In the first half, the Tigers shot 18 of 35 from the field, including 7 of the last 8 they attempted in the first quarter.
“We got good shots,” Hughes said. “We got good looks. We got layups.”
Jacob Bergman started the shooting streak with a putback, his second in as many possessions, and Chance Johnson followed with a pair of baseline drives to make it 16-11 Smith-Cotton. Dante Scroggins hit the next two baskets, and with Lebanon pressing, the Tigers broke it on the following two possessions, finding Blake Allee-Lightfoot alone under the basket for easy layups each time.
But Bergman got into foul trouble and spent much of the second quarter on the bench.
“Jacob out of the game kind of threw his rhythm off, and he never really got going as much as we wanted to,” Hughes said. “The plan was for him to really get going and take it home in the second half, and it just didn’t materialize.”
Sophomore guard Connor Hicks entered the game as Lebanon’s leading scorer, but the Tigers held him scoreless until he hit a layup early in the second quarter. He then scored nine points in the second half. Eight of his 11 points in the game and 40 of Lebanon’s 69 came in the paint.
“Defensively, we’ve got a lot of issues that we need to get in and work on,” Hughes said.
Entering the third quarter up 44-27, the Tigers got a quick basket from Bergman, then turned the ball over on the next four possessions before Dalton Zaremba hit a 3-pointer to make it 49-34. Archer answered with a 3-pointer, and after another Smith-Cotton turnover, Caleb McGinnis hit a basket in the paint to make it 49-39.
The Tigers briefly got the lead back to 15 when Bergman hit a putback, Zaremba took a charge on the other end and Johnson converted a 3-point play. But turnovers and missed shots plagued the Tigers the rest of the third quarter, and Lebanon was soon down by just seven. Smith-Cotton got the offense going again with a Bergman putback and a Spencer Ruckman 3-pointer, but Lebanon answered each time.
Bergman led the Tigers with 14 points. Scroggins had 12, all in the first half, and Johnson scored 11.
McGinnis led Lebanon with 20.
Lebanon won the junior varsity game 48-40.
Smith-Cotton will open play in the Eldon tournament on Thursday against the host Mustangs.