Even with Kickapoo sharpshooter Tyler Bussell hitting eight 3-pointers in the game, the Tigers used a balanced offense to claw their way back for their fourth win.
“We needed a confidence boost,” said Ozark coach Steve Hunter. “We’ve struggled getting in the frame of mind. … We’re feeling pretty good about the game itself. We just need to get better. This was a big boost for our confidence.”
Ozark looked in trouble to start the game, as the Chiefs’ Bussell couldn’t be stopped from the outside while the Tigers struggled to keep Kickapoo’s Chris Ward off the glass. After two quarters, the Chiefs were up by four with momentum.
But that all changed in the second half.
“During halftime Coach was pretty mad,” explained Ozark senior Tyler Clanton. “He knew we could play better, and he kind of lit that fire in our hearts.”
Whatever Hunter told his team, it worked. The Tigers’ defense was quicker and was able to keep Bussell from getting any good looks at the basket. Down low, Ozark senior Brett Krisik was able to get Ward into foul trouble.
From there, the Chiefs struggled to find any offensive answers. Meanwhile, the Tigers got a spark from sophomore Nick Cookinham, who hit a couple big threes, as well as Clanton, who managed to get several inside shots to go down. Ozark was able to turn an 8-point deficit early in the third quarter into an 8-point lead heading into the fourth.
But the Chiefs made a rally of their own in the fourth quarter, off a couple more 3s from Bussell and one from sophomore Matt Ridder. Kickapoo cut the lead to 5 with five minutes left in the quarter, but that’s as close as they would get. The Tigers hit 8 of 10 from the charity stripe to seal the victory.
For Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee, he’s hoping someone on his team will emerge to help out Ward and Bussell, who accounted for 51 of their 64 points.
“We’ve got good players,” Rippee said. “Sometimes the guys (Ward and Bussell) are doing so well, sometimes you have the tendency to stand and watch. We’ve just got to get more involved in our motion. … We just got to get some kids to grow up, step forward and take a little ownership in our team. And they’ll do that.”
Bussell was the game-high leading scorer with 30 points, followed by Ward with 21.
Ozark had four players in double digits – Cookinham led the Tigers with 18, followed by Clanton with 17, Jakob Neidig with 13 and Krisik with 11.