It wasn’t a pretty game, but a win is a win for Coach Steve Hunter’s Tigers.
“Every year you’re going to have some ugly wins – and hopefully not some ugly losses,” said Hunter about his team’s 36 percent shooting from free throw line and high number of turnovers.
The game got off to a fast-paced – and physical – start in the first quarter, with several lead changes. But the Tigers were able to end the quarter up 18-14 after a pair of 3-pointers from junior Noah Nelson, who came off the bench after starter Korbin Evans went out of the game with an ankle injury.
With an already shallow bench, the Tigers found themselves relying on reserves to step up as senior starter Jakob Neidig got tagged with his third foul with 2:30 left in the half. And even though Ozark were at the charity stripe for most of the second quarter, they weren’t able to pull ahead of the quick Bulldog team.
Ozark was able to capitalize on Central’s turnovers and go up 32-25 at halftime, but the Tigers’ woes continued into the third quarter.
With Neidig in foul trouble and Evans hurt, Ozark had trouble handling the ball and getting shots.
“We had to play without Evans and he’s been getting 15 a game in the first three games, and that changed things up a bit,” said Hunter. “We’ve got to keep Jake out of foul trouble.… I think you can tell a difference when 14 isn’t on the floor.”
While Ozark struggled at the line, the Bulldogs struggled to handle the ball and create shots. Senior Brett Krisik used his 6’6” frame to make shots inside the lane over a shorter Central, but the Tigers’ struggles at the free-throw line kept them from being able to pull away.
After going into the fourth quarter up by 8, Central began to put pressure on the ball and cut the lead to five. But Hunter dropped his team into a zone defense, which caused the Bulldogs to rely on outside shooting instead of penetrating into the paint for shots.
Even though the Bulldogs never got any closer than five points, Ozark’s woes at the line kept the game close until the final minute when they were able to hit some free throws to seal the victory.
Central coach Armando Johnson admitted Ozark’s free throw shooting kept his team in the game, but said he was happy with the improvement of his team that is struggling to find a leader.
“Hands down that’s the best game we’ve played this year,” said Johnson. “We just need one kid, one more person to step up. We’ve been challenging them every day: Who’s going to be that kid? Who’s going to step up to get that extra 10 points so we can get a victory.”
Johnson said his team will have a couple players who will be eligible in the spring that he believes will be able to contribute to the team.
“After Christmas, we’re going to be a whole different team,” said Johnson.
Central was lead by sophomore D’Angelo Bedell with 15, followed by senior Darius Gibbs with 12.
Krisik had a game-high 19 points, while junior Nick Cookinham netted 11 and Nelson had 10.
Ozark won’t get much of a break, as they turn around and play West Plains Saturday afternoon. Central will host Carthage on Tuesday.
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