By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — The Waynesville Tigers (8-4, 1-0) basketball program is more than familiar with tough environments.
After all, they’ve produced some impressive road wins in and out of the Ozark Conference.
Now, they’ve add another checkmark to the 2019-20 list, as they used a 26-point, third-quarter outburst — compounded with tighter defense throughout the final 16 minutes of action — en route to the the 67-49 win Tuesday at Central High School.
The Tigers not only battled the opposition, but two play stoppages due to a medical emergency and a fight in the stands, forced a different collective mindset as conference season commenced.
For the Tigers, that’s fine, as they are accustomed to the unexpected, as they’ve only had a full, healthy roster for six of their 12 games this year.
“That’s tough,” Waynesville head coach Chris Pilz said of keeping his team focused during the stoppages. “We started with about a five or six-minute delay, and then we stopped again in the first quarter with the medical emergency. There’s nothing you can do about it. It is unfortunate. Hope everyone is OK. You try to get them in there (huddle) and get them focused.”
The host owned the first half, outscoring the Tigers 27-21, and the two teams accounted for 12 first-half turnovers.
But slowly, methodically, the Tigers returned to traditional Waynesville basketball: court vision, patience, and ball distribution all aided in the win.
“If you can be consistent, then you can have a good high-school ball club,” Pilz said. “We aren’t there yet, (but) give credit to Central. This place is not the easiest place to play.”
The Tigers, though, hit a new gear in the third, when the offense tallied a 13-5 run to open the quarter, and closed it out on a 13-3 run.
The second-half runs were made possible by sophomore guard Xay McArthur — who finished with 17 points to lead the team.
“Going into the locker room, Coach, he really helped us. Said we were going to talk on the floor and move the ball more,” McArthur said. “Be patient. In the first half, there were a lot of distractions, with the fighting in the crowd, but we overcame it and got the W.”
McArthur is the lone starting sophomore this season, and operating with the aforementioned collective mindset has been crucial in the team’s 8-4 record to date.
“Whenever someone makes a mistake, we don’t yell at each other. We are starting to come together as a team, picking up each other,” he said.
The Tigers didn’t overtake the Bulldogs until the 4:15 mark of the third, when senior guard Shen Butler-Lawson penetrated the interior defense to give his team the 34-32 lead: a lead that was never relinquished.
The Tigers converted the final six points of the third to lead the Bulldogs by eight points, 47-35.
With McArthur navigating the back court, and Butler-Lawson driving the paint and guard Mike Lewis pushing the ball in transition, the Tigers are developing their proverbial identity.
McArthur said playing alongside older teammates his sophomore year is not lost in the shuffle.
“As a young guy coming in and playing varsity, it is an honor to play along the seniors,” McArthur said. “I watch what their attitudes are and how they play together, carrying that onto the floor. I’m trying to get them a district championship this year.”
An eight-point deficit with eight minutes to go, the tide could have turned in favor of the Bulldogs, but a quick trey by senior forward Eric Morriss allowed the Tigers to sustain momentum.
The defense forced five fourth-quarter turnovers, and winning the glass on the offensive end and pushing the envelope in transition allowed for additional scoring opportunities for the Tigers.
“The second half, we put up 46 (points),” Pilz said. “Sometimes it takes high-school kids a while to figure it out, but give those guys credit. We were able to get some steals and hit some buckets.
Waynesville: 9 12 26 20
Central: 10 17 8 12
Scoring for Waynesville: McArthur led the team with 17 points; Lewis (10); Hill (6); Butler-Lawson (10); Smith (4); Morriss (9); O’Neil (5) and Okeke (4).
Scoring for Central: Herron (20); Mercado (12); Melton (8); Cooper (3); Beezley (3); Bansal (2).