By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Jeremy Dresslaer hasn’t been kind to his alma mater.
A 2010 graduate of Clever High School and now the head coach at Willard, Dresslaer guided his Tigers to a 67-44 victory against the Blue Jays on Friday in the second round of the 74th Annual Blue & Gold Tournament at JQH Arena in Springfield.
Willard beat Clever by 35 points last season.
“It’s not fun, to be real honest,” Dresslaer said. “I’ve got so much respect for (Clever coach) Luke Brosius and his program. He was the coach that gave me my first job. I was there for five years as the freshman coach and to me it’s just kind of a lose-lose because Luke’s not only one of my former employers but he’s one of my best friends and I just don’t like playing him.”
Brosius, the Clever head coach, didn’t like it either.
“To be honest, I hate it,” he said. “I hate coaching against him just because he and I have such a good friendship and relationship. He does a really good job. He’s got two animals out there and then guys that know their role and they played pretty well.”
Willard seniors Maurice Grayer and Daniel Abreu combined for 43 points in the win, which advances the top-seeded Tigers (8-2) to the third round of the Blue Division where they’ll face Hartville at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Grayer led all scorers with 24 points and contributed 11 in the third quarter as the Tigers pulled away.
It was a 16-13 game after a quarter with Willard making 7-of-8 free throws in the first eight minutes.
Clever was still within four points at 21-17 with 6:03 left in the half following a basket by senior Taylor Genzler, but Grayer and Abreu scored the next nine points of the game and Willard sophomore Haden Brown’s three-point play in the final seconds of the half made it 35-23 at the break.
Brosius said Clever’s transition defense wasn’t very good in that second quarter.
“They got a couple cuts where they just got some easy buckets,” he said. “Part of that is just being disciplined offensively. I told our guys we really had to have disciplined possessions so they wouldn’t be able to get out and run. They do get out and run very well. (Grayer) is very aggressive in transition and does a good job getting to the basket. I felt that’s where we kind of slid away a little bit.”
Clever was scoreless on its first four possessions of the third quarter as Willard extended its lead to 20. Genzler added nine points in the quarter but he was the only Blue Jay to score and Willard led 55-32 going into the fourth.
Sophomore Gavin Davis added six points in the fourth to help put it away.
The win comes after a difficult two-game stretch for the Tigers, who lost 58-55 to Nevada on Dec. 21 and were nearly upset by Ava in the Blue & Gold opener on Thursday. Willard won that game 46-42, though Dresslaer said the Tigers weren’t themselves.
“We kind of got in our head a little bit and we just needed to start executing things a little bit differently,” Dresslaer said. “Once we started seeing that work and getting the ball in the hole we kind of loosened up and played like ourselves again. We just had to find our normal identity and that’s what we’ve been missing. “
Abreu finished with 19 points for Willard, Brown scored nine and Davis had eight.
“I told Daniel after the game that this was probably the game I’ve been most proud of him because he had 19 points, that’s way below his average but he never let it affect his defense, he never let it affect his communication, he never let it affect his leadership,” Dresslaer said.
“Maurice did a great job just being aggressive,” he said. “When he attacks the basket there’s nobody that can stop him. He went back to being really simple and being efficient because earlier in the year he was shooting 75 percent from two and he drifted out a little bit and he got back to being in attack mode. When he’s attacking the basket he’s just so good.”
Dresslaer said his sophomores “played like men today” and also credited junior Ryan Robinson’s play off the bench.
Clever was led by 11 points from Genzler and 10 from junior Bryce Gelle.