By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The eighth-seeded Clever Bluejays gave the top-seeded Ozark Tigers all they wanted for much of the first half Wednesday night in a Gold Division quarterfinal of the 71st annual Blue and Gold Tournament at JQH Arena.
Ozark led the Bluejays 19-17 after the first quarter and opened up a six-point lead to start the second on a runner by Payton Nichols and an in-bounds basket from Will Pickering, making it 23-17. Clever hit a couple of free throws before Ozark went on a 5-0 run for a 28-19 advantage.
The Bluejays chipped away at the lead and got within three with 2:17 to go, but the Tigers went on another little run to take a 36-29 lead at halftime.
“We felt pretty good,” Clever coach Luke Brosius said. “We felt like we could have had the lead, but we missed some ‘bunnies,’ we missed some layups that we should have had, and we missed some free throws that we’d love to have back.
“At seven points, I told our kids that’s nothing to make up, so we felt really good going into the second half.”
But the Tigers made some adjustments, not only on defense with their press, but also on offense in running away with the third quarter, outscoring Clever 28-9.
“Our adjustments were very subtle,” Ozark coach Mark Schweitzer said. “We always look and see what a team is trying to do versus our pressure, and we had to adjust our pressure a little bit and how we applied it and when.
“I thought our kids did a great job of being a little more solid. They (Clever) did a good job of handling our press; they got a lot of layups on the back-end in the first half. But they didn’t get those in the second half, which is what we adjusted for and we talked about. I thought our kids did a good job of taking what we talked about and actually doing it.”
The Tigers executed their defensive plan in the third quarter, but also turned up the offense behind the 14 points of senior Quinn Nelson, including 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.
“I thought he was more aggressive in the second half,” Schweitzer said of Nelson. “If he would do that for two halves, he would have had 28 because that’s how good he is; he can score. When he wants to take over al ballgame, he usually can. We just have to bring that out of him a little more often.”
Contributions from five other Tigers sparked Ozark to the 28-point quarter with Parker Hanks scoring six.
“We’re more than just Quinn,” Schweitzer said, “and that’s what makes us a tough team to play because you have to account for everyone.”
The Tigers brought 11 players and all 11 got in the scorebook.
“That’s one of our strengths is our depth,” Schweitzer said. “It’s nice to be able to have that kind of depth because in a four-day, four-game tournament, you need those fresh legs and we still have them.”
Ozark will face fourth-seeded Republic, a 53-40 winner over West Plains at 7 p.m. Thursday at JQH. Clever meets West Plains at 7 p.m. at Hammons Student Center.
Blue and Gold Tournament
Gold Division quarterfinal
No. 1 Ozark 79, No. 8 Clever 50
CLEVER (5-7) – Caleb Peck 12, Tyler Deepe 2, Nathan King 4, Mason Wilson 8, Kody Whiles 6, Devan Hampton 8, Britton Dover 4, Daylon Loonsfoot 6.
OZARK (8-1) – Payton Nichols 8, Parker Hanks 14, AJ Elliott 7, Quinn Nelson 23, Peyton Skipworth 3, Kristian Cooper 8, Will Pickering 3, Parker Ramsdell 6, Caleb Holzer 3, Forrest Barnes 2, Mason Capps 2.