Last season, the Houston High School boys basketball team ended a 42-game losing streak against South Central Association opponents. This season, the Tigers took that to another level by winning more than once in SCA play.
Tuesday (Feb. 18) in Hiett Gymnasium, Houston put an exclamation mark on that entry in the books by posting a 57-53 victory over SCA rival Salem in a Senior Night contest on Tuesday of last week in Hiett Gymnasium.
The win was the Tigers’ first over their namesakes from Dent County in 15 years.
“These guys have put their heart and soul into changing Houston basketball,” said HHS head coach Rod Gorman, “and for them to win on Senior Night in front a big crowd is exactly what they deserve.”
The Tigers jumped out to a 10-0 lead at the outset of the game with a run including baskets by five different players, including seniors Clayton Moore, Dakota Burchett and Kyler Ramsey, junior Ty Franklin and sophomore Korbyn Tune.
Houston extended the advantage to 14-2 on back-to-back buckets from the low blocks by Tune and led 18-6 at the end of the period.
The two Tigers squads traded blows in the second period, and Houston went into the break ahead 32-22 after Ramsey sank a 10-foot jumper from the left baseline at the buzzer.
Salem threatened in the third quarter and capitalized on good ball movement to cut the lead to 39-33 on a layup by Dawson Conway with 3:21 left. But thanks in part to key rebounds and timely blocked shots by Tune and Franklin, the host Tigers finished the period with a 43-35 lead.
But Salem began the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run, and trailed 45-44 at the 5-minute mark after a 3-pointer by forward Reese Dodson and a free throw by Conway.
On several similar occasions this season, Houston failed to finish strong. But this time, the Tigers weathered the storm and Salem never tied the score or led.
With fans of both teams raising the roof during as the intense final moments of the game unfolded, Houston got a crucial bucket from Moore on a driving layup with 2:05 to go to lead 52-48. Salem hung in and trailed 53-52 after a shot basket by Korben Barred with 48 seconds remaining.
But as the home standing Tigers retained their composure and the visiting Tigers were forced to foul with time running down. Houston got the ball into Moore’s hands and he sank three free throws with under 20 seconds left, including two with 4 seconds to go that put the game out of reach.
“We’ve played lots of teams close that we haven’t been favored against,” Gorman said, “and we finally finished strong and came away with the win.”
Moore went 5-for-6 from the charity strip in the fourth quarter and led Houston in scoring with 18 points while Franklin had 16 points (including 13 in the second half) and Tune added 11 (including 10 in the first half).
Dodson knocked down four treys and led Salem in scoring with 20 points, while Braiden Carmack had 12 and Chilton added 10.
Houston might have had an easier time in the contest, but went a dismal 12-for-26 from the foul line, including misses on the front end of several 1-and-1 situations. Meanwhile, Salem went 13-for-19 from the line.
“We’ve been struggling from the free throw line as of late, and we’ve been working hard to correct that,” Gorman said. “We know we must shoot a better percentage in postseason.”
Moore said he was glad he and his senior teammates were able to experience such a huge win in their final home game.
“It was important to win that last game and leave a positive attitude for the next group coming up,” he said. “It was a close game and very thrilling, and if I could choose to have any last home game, this one would be it.”
The Tigers’ big victory came a night after a 54-16 win at Laquey.
Nine Houston players scored in the blowout affair. Franklin led the way with 13 points, while Tune had 12, Ramsey had 7, senior Jaekan Mass had 6 and Moore and senor Dalton Dzurick each added 5.
The Tigers (12-11, 2-4 SCA) travel to Mountain Grove on Friday night (Feb. 21) for the regular season finale. Houston will return to Mountain Grove Monday for a matchup with Liberty in the first round of the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3 District 4 tournament.
Gorman said beating Salem depicts how his team appears to be peaking at the right time.
“The win for sure gives us confidence going into postseason,” he said. “We have said that once we prove to ourselves we can do it, then it gets easier to duplicate the success.”