By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ozark, Mo. — Republic has been nothing short of a nightmare for its Central Ozark Conference opponents this season.
Ozark, in particular.
Just a day after Republic’s Lady Tigers downed Ozark at home to secure a conference title, Coach Tim Brown and his boys followed suit with a 55-47 victory on the road.
Republic’s Broc Smith notched a game-high 21 points in the win.
While the 6-foot-4 senior struggled at times to find his rhythm, Smith and his teammates continued to grind away at a pesky Ozark squad.
“It’s all starts on my coaches,” Smith said. “They told me to keep my head up, and they told me I’m gonna make next shot. Then, I end up making the next shot, and that just keeps my confidence boosted — and we went out there and did what we’re supposed to do.”
One of the biggest things Smith has done all season is hit buckets when his team needs them most.
An 11-2 run helped Ozark jump out to an early lead in the first quarter; however, Smith’s back-to-back baskets in the period’s final seconds allowed Republic to regain the lead at 12-11.
That sort of persistent, grinding mentality seems to suit Coach Brown just fine.
“That’s kind of been our motto this year and how our program’s always played,” Brown said. “We grind, and we find ways to get it done. It’s not always pretty, but we find a way to get it done.”
Ozark’s early success was keyed by the interior play of junior forward AJ Elliott, according to head coach Mark Schweitzer.
“Early on, [Elliott] was looking to pass in the first two or three minutes of the game,” Schweitzer said. “We had some turnovers when he was doing that, and we really didn’t get him going early until he started using his body to wiggle around in there. He did a good job of drawing all that contact and finishing through it,”
In the second quarter, the 6-foot-5 Elliott scored six of his 14 points, which also happened to be the only points Ozark was able to muster in the period.
A Smith dunk at the end of the quarter gave the orange Tigers a 23-17 advantage heading into the half.
For Brown and Republic, making Elliott work for his points was a vital part of the game plan.
“[Elliott] is the type of player that you’re not going to completely take out of the game,” Brown said. “We were just trying to do everything we could to shrink the floor on that end and just kind of clog it up in there. We felt like he had some possessions in the first half that they really had to work for. If he scores that way, we’re fine with it, but not allow them to get to the early entry baskets.”
An 8-0 run from Parker Ramsdell and Alonzo Riwa helped Ozark close the gap in the third period.
The red Tigers headed into the fourth trailing by a single basket at 36-34; however, a rising foul count began to cause difficulties for Ozark and its top two scorers in Elliott and Ramsdell.
Republic’s first seven points of the final period were all from the free throw line, with six in a row converted by junior Tucker Thomas.
The 10-2 run to open the fourth period proved to be the difference-maker for the orange Tigers, as the lead stretched to 46-38 during the quarter’s first five minutes.
Thomas and senior Trent Rackley each scored 7 points in the final quarter to help seal Republic’s win.
Brown praised his team’s clutch performance from the free throw line late in the game.
Republic converted 15 of 20 free throws during the foul-plagued fourth quarter.
“We had a lot of guys step up,” Brown said. “A lot of guys that stepped up at key times when things weren’t necessarily going well for them throughout the game.”
After the game, Smith celebrated the conference title with his teammates.
“Undefeated so far and COC champs — I think no one thought that, but we did,” Smith said. “We talked about it from day one. We wanted to be at the top, we wanted to win championships and that was our goal all season. We did that, and we couldn’t be happier.”
For Ozark and Coach Schweitzer, the loss marks an opportunity for final tune-ups before district play beings.
“It’s all about the district,” Schweitzer said. “Can our team win the district? Yes we can, and that’s all you need. That’s all we need — to answer yes to that question, and we’ll come back tomorrow for practice and go to work.”
Varsity Final: Republic – 55, Ozark – 47
Republic 12 11 13 19 — 55
Ozark 11 06 17 13 — 47
Republic scoring: Broc Smith – 21, Trent Rackley – 9, Tucker Thomas – 9, Drew McMillin – 9, Race Looney – 7
Ozark scoring: Parker Ramsdell – 15, A.J. Elliott – 14, Alonzo Riwa – 6, Kyle Flavin – 6, Caleb Holzer – 4, Troy Davidson – 2
JV Final: Ozark – 59, Republic – 46