By Dana Harding
A furious, second-half comeback helped Springfield Central overcome a double-digit deficit Tuesday night, as the Bulldogs rallied to beat Branson 54-51.
The Pirates controlled the scoreboard for most quarters with lane penetration and a bevy of second-chance opportunities at the basket. Branson’s size advantage helped fortify an almost two-to-one rebound advantage in the contest and, early on, it seemed Central had few answers.
Both Zach Johnston and Cameron Banks got out to quick starts for the Pirates, attacking the basket at every opportunity. The pair combined for 18 first-half points and helped Branson jump out to a 28-19 lead at the half.
Despite the early deficit, Central head coach Armando Johnson knew his team’s problems were largely due to simple fundamentals and, thus, fixable with a few key adjustments.
“We were giving up second-chance opportunities,” Johnson said. “We came in the locker room, and we talked about what we need to do. Just boxing guys out and really locking down, then we just started trapping.”
Late in the third quarter, with the Branson lead stretched to ten, Central’s aggressive defense began paying dividends. Senior D.J. Hardin capped a 9-0 Bulldog run with back-to-back steals and five straight points of his own, cutting the Branson lead to a single point at 32-31.
Johnson pointed to a tempo change as a primary reason for the game’s late momentum shift.
“We noticed that when we came a couple times to trap, those guys would either travel or throw the ball away,” Johnson said. “I know that we’ve got some kids who are athletic and pretty quick, so we just took advantage of that, and I told our kids to just run. Just run.”
In the fourth, Central frantic tempo uncovered frequent openings on the perimeter.
Openings that Bulldog sniper Braden Dankert was all-too-happy to exploit.
A Dankert 3-ball opened the fourth and gave Central its first lead; however, the senior sharpshooter was just warming up.
With the Bulldogs nursing a two-point lead midway through the quarter, and Branson threatening to regain momentum, Dankert poured in back-to-back 3s from both baseline corners.
Johnson was quick to praise Dankert’s big-play ability and the team’s ability to keep finding him in open spots.
“We call it the eraser,” Johnson said. “That 3 is a great eraser. It erases runs, it erases a guy’s inability to play defense and it erases us missing a box-out, because when you keep hitting 3s… three is more than two.”
Dankert trio of treys proved to be the difference-maker down the stretch for the Bulldogs. He finished with a team-high 17 points and five 3-pointers.
“We got the momentum after the first shot, and then kept going and kept pushing it,” Dankert said. “Then, my teammates kept finding me. They find me every time and know where I’m at. I give them a little finger up in the air. I’m right there, they give it to me and I knock it down.”
For Branson and head coach Kirk Hanson, the game marked another missed opportunity due to an abundance of late-game turnovers.
“In a nutshell, we committed 18 turnovers,” Hanson said. “We can’t turn the ball over like that, and that’s been our problem all year long … taking care of the basketball. If we do that, and shoot a decent percentage, we win the game. 18 turnovers and six missed free throws. In a close game, that’s going to hurt you.”
Banks finished the game with a game-high 19 points for the Pirates and was joined in double figures by Hunter Weber’s 15 and Johnston’s 11.
Branson (4-8) travels to Carl Junction on Friday, Jan. 13, while Central (3-11) hosts Fair Grove on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Varsity final: Central – 54, Branson – 51
Central 11 8 14 21 — 54
Branson 10 18 6 17 — 51
Central scoring: Braden Dankert – 17, D.J. Hardin – 15, Tavi Robinson – 8, Garrett Harper – 7, Robert Galvan – 7
Branson scoring: Cameron Banks – 19, Hunter Weber – 15, Zach Johnston – 11, Nick Dapprich – 3, Collin Pepper – 2, Britt Pierce – 1
JV final: Branson – 45, Central – 32
(Aaron Whited – 11 points)
Frosh final: Branson – 60, Central – 29
(D’Shawn Craig – 15 points)