Before his team took the court Tuesday night, Houston Tigers coach Dustin Kirkman told his players to forget the 11-game losing streak. Forget the adversity. Forget what people were saying.
“Do it for the guy next to you,” Kirkman said he instructed his players.
Together, the Tigers’ delivered a much-needed victory.
Junior Rodney Preheim got Houston going with eight of his 18 points in the first quarter and Weston Walker also scored 18 as the Tigers held off Cabool 64-62 Tuesday night inside Hiett Gymnasium.
It had been 49 days since the Tigers’ last victory — a 66-60 win against Couch at the Cabool Holiday Tournament. They had dropped 11 straight games and were 2-17 following lopsided weekend losses to Liberty and Salem.
“It’s tough. It’s hard. Sometimes it’s unforgiving,” Kirkman said. “It’s tough to come to practice every day. It’s tough to run. It’s tough to listen to me sometimes. But what it does is shows what kind of character you have.”
As he sat in his office following the game, Kirkman said it was his team’s resolve that made the win especially pleasing.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these boys,” he said. “Not only for the win, but the way they did it and the way they are sticking through these rough times. That shows what kind of true character these young men have.”
The Tigers (3-17) led by as many as 12 points with 3 minutes, 49 seconds left in the game. After Cabool closed the gap to five, Preheim had consecutive interior baskets to extend the advantage to nine.
Houston hung on despite missing six free throws in the final minute. Austin Holmes’ offensive stickback at the buzzer was the closest Cabool had been since the opening minutes of the third quarter.
Dalton Pokorny joined Prehiem and Walker in double figures with 12 points. Freshman Aaron Cantrell added seven.
Donovan Baker scored 12 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter for Cabool.
Preheim scored eight of the Tigers’ first 10 points as they established an early 10-4 advantage. His nifty spin move and basket in the final moments of the second quarter put Houston ahead 26-24 at the half.
Preheim reached double digits for the third consecutive game. It only took him one half against the Bulldogs.
“He’s a 5-foot-10 post player that can’t jump that high,” Kirkman said of Preheim. “But he’s got good touch and good moves. We went through a stretch where he was settling for his jump shot. We’ve been on him, and I think it clicked. He got in there and went to work.”
Walker and Cantrell each connected from downtown to help Houston extended the lead to 41-36 late in the third quarter. Walker and Cory Scheets had consecutive baskets and Jacob Kelley hit two free throws — following the second technical foul against a Cabool player — to make it 47-39 at the end of the third.
Pokorny scored on a transition feed from Scheets early in the fourth to stretch the Tigers’ advantage to double digits. The lead was 12 after Walker made four consecutive free throws with just under four minutes remaining.
Kirkman praised his players for continuing to give him their best effort despite a difficult season.
“The hard part is coming in here and working through it,” Kirkman said. “The one thing (assistant) coach (Willy) Walker and myself can’t do is stop coaching. We’ve got to push these kids. If you lay down and say, ‘It’s OK,’ it will always be OK. But if you continue to push them and tell them, ‘You are going to get through this and get better,’ that’s when you get to points like tonight where you put a game together.”
On Saturday, Preheim scored 17 and Walker had 12 in a 62-37 road loss to Salem.
The previous night, Preheim led three players in double figures in an 81-47 defeat to Liberty. Kelley and Pokorny scored 10 points apiece.
Cabool 6 18 15 23 — 62
Houston 10 16 21 17 — 64
CABOOL (62) — Gavin Green 4. Dylan Smith 3. Donovan Baker 22. Drew Pearson 7. Austin Holmes 14. Preston Eagleman 12. FG 24. FT 9-14. F 15. (3-pointers: Baker 2, Pearson, Holmes)
HOUSTON (64) — Aaron Cantrell 7. Weston Walker 18. Cory Scheets 4. Rodney Preheim 18. Jacob Kelley 5. Dalton Pokorny 12. FG 26. FT 9-19. F 15. (Walker 2, Cantrell)
Houston 7 11 14 5 — 37
Salem 14 19 18 11 — 62
HOUSTON (37) — Weston Walker 12. Cory Scheets 3. Rodney Preheim 17. Jacob Kelley 3. Nathaniel Alkire 2. FG 15. FT 8-17. F 12.
SALEM (62) — Dustin Sevel 5. Jared Patterson 11. Jake Arzt 6. Brady Floyd 2. Cody Whitaker 3. Chad Elliot 10. Carson Sheppard 4. Jacob Kettner 9. Jonathan Hambacher 12. FG 26. FT 3-5. F 19. (3-pointers: Arzt 2, Elliot 2, Sevel, Patterson)
Liberty 24 30 21 6 — 81
Houston 8 12 17 10 — 47
LIBERTY (81) — Jaelon Acklin 18. James Denton 6. Kole Gastineau 7. Daniel French 4. Tad Zitter 2. Derek Daniels 21. Jordan Pruett 8. Ethan Niehaus 2. Coty Martin 9. Alex Ledgerwood 2. FG 30. FT 10-20. F 19.
HOUSTON (47) — Aaron Cantrell 8. Devin Coulter 4. Weston Walker 1. Cory Scheets 2. Rodney Preheim 12. Jacob Kelley 10. Dalton Pokorny 10. FG 20. FT 6-17. F 18.