The Smith-Cotton Tigers rallied past Eldon on Saturday to win the seventh- place game of the Smith-Cotton McDonald’s Classic boys basketball tournament 56-53.
The Tigers entered the fourth quarter down 38-37 before scoring the first five points of the fourth to take the lead.
“We just knew we were in the game the whole time,” said Smith-Cotton center Dalton Christian. “We just needed to run our stuff and get good shots and get back in it real quick.”
The Tigers held the lead through most of the quarter, leading by as many as seven after a Chance Johnson layup made it 47-40 with 4:30 left. Eldon got back to within two before Zach Wolf converted a 3-point play to make it 52-47 with 1:21 left.
“Dakota (Brown) was on the side and we swung the ball,” Wolf said. “The initial cut I wanted wasn’t there but then he swung it and it was open enough that I got it. I was able to get it up and finish and get the and-one.”
After the teams traded free throws and baskets, Eldon’s Thomas Kriegshauser hit a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left to make it 55-53 Smith-Cotton. Brown sank a free throw to push the lead back to three and a desperation 60-foot shot at the buzzer by Chris Hulsey came up well short.
“We had to stay with our game plan,” said Smith-Cotton coach Ray Hughes. “We had to get (Christian) and Zach more touches with the basketball, try to make sure Chance had the ball in his hands and was making good decisions. We just had to continue to pressure and make that extra rotation. It showed that it was just enough for us to hold on.”
After turning the ball over 19 times in a loss to Kansas City East on Friday and 13 times in a loss to Branson on Thursday, the Tigers turned the ball over three times against Eldon. None of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter.
“I think that’s the least amount of turnovers we’ve had this year,” Christian said. “It shows on the scoreboard how we came out with the ‘W’ when we limit our turnovers.”
Smith-Cotton entered the fourth quarter shooting 14 of 44 from the field (32 percent) then missed a pair of shots on its first possession of the fourth before knocking down 6 of 8 to finish the game.
Eldon entered the game shorthanded after starting sophomore point guard Josh Jones injured his ankle in a loss to Southwest Early College Campus on Friday. The Mustangs’ bench got even shorter when big men Beau Roseblock and Logan Shinn got into foul trouble.
“It freed up a lot of stuff down low,” Christian said. “It allowed us to drive in and take on the big guys and force fouls and even dump it off to Zach or any other post player.”
Smith-Cotton got off to an 11-2 run to start the game thanks to 3-pointers from Spencer Ruckman, Johnson and Christian. Hulsey answered with a 3-pointer of his own late in the first to spark a 9-0 Eldon rally to tie the game.
The teams traded the lead throughout the second quarter with Eldon leading by as many as six at 21-15. Smith-Cotton answered with a 6-1 run capped off by a Christian steal that led to a Brady Ritzert layup. Eldon led 26-23 at halftime.
Eldon got the lead back to five points early in the third quarter when Hulsey hit a 3-pointer to make it 31-26 but Dalton Zaremba hit a 3-pointer and Johnson hit a layup to tie the game at 31.
Christian finished with 22 points.
“When he’s offensively aggressive he makes us a better team,” Hughes said. “He’s a very unselfish basketball player but sometimes he needs to take it more on himself to score.”
Wolf had 12 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Johnson added 11.
Hulsey scored 16 points for Eldon. Kriegshauser added 15.
“This was a character win,” Wolf said. “We wanted to make the point that we are going to be a winning team. It says a lot about us that we were able to fight back from (losing to Branson and East) instead of getting down. We just wanted to play to win.”
Smith-Cotton (4-8) will visit Lebanon at 7:30 p.m. Friday.