By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Clinging to a five-point lead with 30 seconds remaining and an inbounds coming, Ozark head coach Mark Schweitzer had a gutsy call.
The Tigers executed the inbounds play to perfection with senior guard Quinn Nelson finishing it off with a two-handed jam (video below) to put the finishing touches on Ozark’s 69-61 win over Christ The King on Friday on JQH Arena in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
“Well, I called the play,” said a joking Mark Schweitzer. “So the first thing that went through my mind is that I’m a genius. I’m kidding, but it was a great call and it was time to go big or go home and my final thought was this is it, we’ve won this, that was the punctuation.
“Our kids showed some toughness. We got up on them by 12 in the second quarter, but things never really got rolling. There was no flow and it was a sluggish half. I thought we just outworked them and that we were tougher. Everybody contributed to this one, I’m just really proud of our kids.”
Now, normally you’d take that as coach speak… but not in this case.
Seven of Ozark’s nine players that entered the game scored.
The Tigers outrebounded (35-31) the much bigger Royals, whose starting lineup includes 6-foot-11 nationally-ranked 2019 forward Kofi Cockburn. Ozark also won in points in the paint (24-10), 2nd chance points (11-7) and won the turnover battle (15-7).
Just one night after giving one of the nation’s top programs everything they want, Ozark doubled down on what has been an impressive week with a huge win. The Tigers were dominant, leading for more than 22 game minutes.
Ozark’s uniquely tight contest against Oak Hill on Thursday wasn’t an anomaly, but a preview.
“Ballislife did a piece that made us look like trash against Oak Hill, showing all their plays and showing none of what we did,” said Schweitzer. “If I see that guy I might have a word or two for him, but other than that run we went tit-for-tat with them. People need to remember that we went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the nation. We talked about how doing that last night and coming out today and laying an egg and not building off of it negates that progress.”
Leading the way for Ozark was Nelson, whose 27 points came along with eight rebounds. Nelson has now scored 52 points through his first two games, shooting a blistering hot 11-for-22 from 3-point range.
Schweitzer believes his go-to scorer has earned some more college interest at minimum and perhaps a few offers.
“I said it last night too, if my phone doesn’t start ringing with coaches that want to offer this kid then we’re going to start having to take collections and do a full-on campaign,” said Schweitzer. “We’ll make signs. We’ll make billboards or whatever it takes. This kid is great. He’s a team-first guy and that’s why good things are happening. He’s showing that he can compete with anybody.
“I’d put him on my roster if I was a D-1 coach. We can come as a package deal if some school wants to offer me a job, because I would offer him in a heartbeat.”
Up next is yet another elite challenge, with a Wasatch Academy squad that is ranked No. 14 in USA Today’s Super 25.
Wasatch is led by California signee Matt Bradley and ESPN 100 recruit Bryan Penn-Johnson. And, much like Christ The King, Wasatch has no shortage of big bodies.
Glendale fell to Wasatch, 68-65, in one of the wildest final sequences in Bass Pro history.
Ozark hopes to avoid a letdown and close the tournament with a 2-1 record, becoming the first local squad to do so since Springfield Central in 2009.
“We have another team with a bunch of 7-footers tomorrow and we’re going to attempt to do the same thing,” said Schweitzer. “Glendale gave them one heck of a game. I hope that they’re tired and they run out of ice at the hotel for their legs and that we can get after them.”
Ozark and Wasatch Academy are slated for a 4 p.m. tip at JQH Arena.