Houston senior Jacob Kelley puts up a shot in the second half of Saturday’s play-in game of the Class 3 District 2 Tournament against Willow Springs.

CABOOL –– Houston Tigers coach Tom Brown sent a group text message to his team last week. It was a photo of a basketball swishing through the net. The picture was accompanied by the words, ‘What I want to see from us tonight.’

From opening the gym every morning before school to encouraging texts, Brown did his best to improve his team’s shooting throughout the season. But it never quite developed like he hoped.

“I thought at the beginning of the year that would be our strength,” Brown said following Saturday’s season-ending 52-48 loss to Willow Springs in the play-in game of the Class 3 District 2 Tournament. “We just did not put the ball in the basket the way we should have.”

Curry Van Horn scored 15 points and Rodney Preheim added 11 as the lone players in double figures against the Bears.

Houston was without starter Aaron Cantrell, who Brown said sat out with an illness.

Willow Springs followed Saturday’s victory with a 40-36 upset of top-seeded Seymour in Monday’s first-round game. The Bears (6-21) face Liberty (15-12) at 6 p.m. today (Thursday) in the semifinals.

In Monday’s other first-round games, Licking beat Mountain Grove 57-41, Ava defeated Cabool 53-40 and Liberty topped Alton 76-72.

Licking (22-5) and Ava (17-9) play in the other semifinal game. The championship is 7 p.m. Saturday.

Brown arrived in Houston just three weeks before practice began following the resignation of coach Dustin Kirkman. He had a reputation for developing high-scoring teams that shot well from the perimeter.

That formula –– which led to eight winning seasons in nine years at Meadow Heights High School following 11 straight losing campaigns before Brown arrived –– didn’t translate into success at Houston.

Brown said the Tigers, who lost their final seven games to finish 4-19, shot in the 30 percent range as a team this season.

“If we shoot a high school average of 40 percent, we win 15 games this year,” he said. “Just 40 percent –– that’s all we had to do.”

That trend continued in district play. After Colten Huff’s jumper with 2:17 remaining to tie it at 45-all, the Tigers didn’t get another basket until Van Horn made a 3-pointer with 49 seconds left.

It was Houston’s first –– and only –– triple of the game. The Tigers didn’t score another point as Willow Springs sealed the victory at the foul line.

“We played our hearts out,” Brown said. “It was a good battle.”

The Tigers went with a new look in district play as they switched from 2-2-1 fullcourt pressure to man-to-man. The change led to a 19-16 advantage following Van Horn’s offensive putback just five seconds before halftime.

The Bears used a 20-14 third-quarter advantage to take their first lead since early in the second and despite HHS rallying to tie it on Huff’s jumper, were able to hold on down the stretch.

Brown said his team’s season-long struggles may have played a part in the way they played in a close game.

“Being denied victories so many times, I think there was a bit of a letdown,” he said. “The kids didn’t stop working hard, but I think it got in their heads that, ‘We can’t do this.’

“It wasn’t in my head. I always believed. But it’s hard when you battle the whole game and end up losing.”

BOYS

CLASS 3 DISTRICT 2

at Cabool High School

Play-in game

Saturday’s score

Willow Springs 52, Houston 48

First round

Monday’s scores

Willow Springs 40, Seymour 36

Liberty 76, Alton 72

Licking 57, Mtn. Grove 41

Ava 53, Cabool 40

Semifinals

Thursday’s games

Willow Springs (6-21) vs. Liberty (15-12), 6 p.m.

Licking (22-5) vs. Ava (17-9), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s game

Championship, 7 p.m.

––––––

Houston          6   13   14   15   –    48
Willow Springs      8   8   20   16   –   52

 

HOUSTON (48) –– Curry Van Horn 15. Devin Coulter 8. Colten Huff 6. Weston Walker 6. Rodney Preheim 11. Jacob Kelley 2.

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