Branson went 15-for-20 at the charity stripe in the first half alone as they erased an early deficit and cruised to a 59-43 win in Springfield.
“Our offense was struggling and we had to find a way to get some points on the board,” said Branson coach Brian McTague. “We have kids that can make free throws, so it’s important for us to get to the line more this year. There are going to be games like this that we have to grind it out.”
The Pirates were 26-for-33 at the stripe for the game, a 79-percent clip.
“We’re a good free throw shooting team, so we’ve just got to get to the hole, get fouled, and get to the free throw line,” said Branson junior guard Da’quan Ervin.
Three-pointers from Garrett Skipworth and Cameron Maes staked Glendale to an early 18-14 lead, as Branson was mired in a long field goal drought. But Thatch Unruh stepped up and knocked down two of three tries at the line, Isaiah Daniels hit one of two, and Chandler Hall drained a pair to put the Pirates in front.
Remington Barbo’s bucket in the lane broke the run, but a 3-pointer from Unruh and a runner in the lane by Ervin helped send the Pirates into the halftime break with a 30-23 lead.
“We’re not very good on offense right now, and that’s our weakness,” said Glendale coach Sean Williamson. “We just have a lot of getting better to do. We have a lot of inexperienced guys and we’re still trying to figure it out.”
Glendale struck the first blow of the second half, as Maes drew a three-shot foul and connected on all three tries.
But Unruh and Ervin had the answer for Branson. Unruh got loose for a triple from the left wing and Ervin strung together an impressive sequence. He turned a steal into an easy lay-up, pulled down a defensive rebound, and scored in the lane before another Unruh 3-pointer put the Pirates in control, 40-26. The Falcons were never closer than 10 points the rest of the night.
“Coach always tells us whenever we go in that the game is not over. We‘ve got to finish,” said Ervin. “Being a junior starter, I feel like I’ve got to step up and do what I can do. The coaches are starting me for a reason.”
The game took place just four days after Falcons rallied from six points down in the final three minutes to knock off Branson 59-55 in the semifinals of the Forsyth Tournament, a loss that served as motivation for the Pirates.
“We were a little nervous after they beat us in the Forsyth Tournament, and everybody took it real personal,” said Ervin. “It was in our heads early, but it turned out good.”
Ervin scored 18 to lead all scorers, while Thatch Unruh added 17 to lead three Pirates in double figures. Drew Russell finished his night with 12.
“That’s what they’ve got to do,” said McTague. “I told them before the season that a bad game for them had to be about 18 points. They’re capable of going and getting 25, but there are going to be nights like this where it’s not going in and we’ve got to work hard for everything we get. They did a good job of staying in a stance and guarding, even when our shots weren’t going in.”
Maes, a junior guard, was the only Falcon in double figures, with 14. Brad Dishman and Remington Barbo each chipped in 7.
“It’s not about if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. True coaches feel that way,” said Williamson. “If our team played a little better, and a little better together, I wouldn’t be so upset about it. Right now we don’t care about each other, we care about am I going to get to play, or am I scoring? We’re not good enough to do that.”
The game was a homecoming of sorts of McTague, who cut his teeth as an assistant coach for the Falcons before taking over the program at Clever. This is his first year as the head coach at Branson.
“It was definitely a different feeling,” said McTague. “It’s been long enough, but at the same time it was still a weird feeling.”
“Brian was an assistant at Glendale for (Mike) Keltner, (Steve) Hesser and me, and he did a great job,” said Williamson. “He’s a great coach and I wish him all the best.”