Licking and Thayer are in different conferences, different Class affiliations and have played one time since the 2013-14 season, when current seniors were freshmen.
But you wouldn’t have been able to tell all that if you were inside the gym Thursday night for the Cabool Holiday Tournament championship game.
In what had the feel and intensity of a postseason battle between two longtime rivals, Class 3 Licking (12-0, No. 2 in Class 3 MBCA poll) outlasted Class 2 Thayer 47-40 in overtime behind a key three-point play from senior Nathan Wilson and some timely free throw shooting.
Wilson poured in a game-high 27 points, the biggest three coming on a pull-up jumper – plus the foul – with 32 seconds remaining that put Licking in control for good at 43-38.
“We were trying to isolate at some point and (Thayer) started coming out a little bit away from the rim and chasing us,” said Licking coach Ben Glasgow. “We were trying to get (the ball) to him and I told him, ‘From this point on, if you get the ball in these spots, you go make a play and we’ll trust whatever happens.’ He missed a shot earlier, but then he made that three-point play and it was big.”
And about that foul? Thayer fans may want to go back and look at the game tape.
“I pump-faked the defender and knew I had a little opening there at the 15-foot line,” said Wilson, before revealing the truth with a sly grin. “Honestly, the kid didn’t touch me, but… they called (the foul) and I made that shot and that was it.”
Foul or not, the basket gave Licking a two-possession lead in a game where points were at a premium.
Jalen Andrews scored on Thayer’s next possession to keep the Bobcats alive, but junior Terance Hale answered by calmly sinking two free throws – his only points of the game – to seal the victory.
The win gave Licking its third straight Cabool Tournament championship.
“The farther you go in this tournament, the more the (fans) show up,” Glasgow said. “There were teams that had a lot of fans stick around to watch, even though their team wasn’t playing. It was a really good environment, packed in here. It was exciting to play in that.”
Wilson was 10-for-10 at the free throw line, including 7-for-7 in the overtime session where he accounted for nine of Licking’s 13 points. As a team, Licking made 17 of 18 free throws.
“(Tonight) reminded me a lot of districts,” said Wilson, a 6’5″ senior forward who was named tournament MVP. “Tough opponent. Thayer’s a great team. They pushed us like we needed to be pushed, get us focused and prepared for a playoff run later on.”
Thayer was led by Zyman Langley with 19 points. He had perhaps the second-biggest shot of the game as he drained a long 3-pointer – taken from about four feet behind the line – with 30 seconds remaining in regulation that tied the game, 34-34.
Licking committed a turnover in the final seconds on its ensuing possession to send the game to overtime.
“I thought our kids really stepped up and played,” said Thayer coach Matt Pits. “We had to do some things different. But we did it, we executed what we wanted to do and we had the opportunity we wanted to have with a chance to win late. We just didn’t finish.
“But I was proud of our kids. I told them I couldn’t have been any more proud of them if they had won.”
The “different things” which Pitts referenced was Thayer’s pace. With starting post player Ayden Stone in early and frequent foul trouble, the normally up-tempo Bobcats slowed the pace considerably throughout the game – going as far as to hold possession for nearly the final two minutes of the first quarter.
“Usually, we’re so up-tempo but I just felt like we needed to make every possession count,” Pitts said. “Because (Licking is) so tough offensively. If we had (the ball), they didn’t have (the ball). That’s what we were thinking.”
Thayer got a big lift to close the first half when Kobe Meyer hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut a nine-point deficit down to 21-15. Meyer and Andrews scored eight apiece for Thayer.
“We knew had a size advantage, but (Thayer’s) so quick and they can spread you,” Glasgow said. “(Thayer) wants to get you to chase and we had to be really disciplined not to chase them too far, because they can go right by you and they’re had to stay in front of. They’re an excellent team and well-coached.”
Thayer (No. 5 in Class 2 MBCA poll) dropped to 10-2 overall. The Bobcats’ other loss came to Class 5 Jackson.
Thayer entered this season with just one varsity player – Langley – back from last season’s team. The Bobcats have filled the gaps with members of the JV team that went undefeated in 2015-16.
“I don’t know if they’ve exceeded (expectations) because after the summer they had, they’re really where I thought they would be,” Pitts said. “They’ll continue to get better because they’re hungry. I hope we’re in a chance at the end (of the season) to make some noise.”
Licking hosts Hartville on Tuesday. Thayer hosts Alton the same night.
Jon Smith – Cabool
Aaron Walker – Winona
Brady Smith – Licking
Nathan Wilson – Licking (MVP)
Josh Pruett – MV/BT/Liberty
Kobe Meyer – Thayer
Zyman Langley – Thayer
Licking 47, Thayer 40 (OT)
Thayer 7 8 9 10 6 — 40
Licking 9 12 5 8 13 — 47
Thayer – Zyman Langley 19, Jalen Andrews 8, Kobe Meyer 8, Dagen Jones 3, Ayden Stone 2
Licking – Nathan Wilson 27, Brady Smith 8, G.T. Nicholson 5, Dillon Smith 3, Clabe Sullins 2, Terance Hale 2