The story was familiar to fans of the Houston High School boys basketball team this season.
In a Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3 District 4 tournament game Monday night in Mountain Grove, the Tigers held a 4-point lead in the fourth quarter but ultimately absorbed a season-ending loss to Liberty, 65-58.
The two teams exchanged blows and traded leads for much of the contest, with the third-seeded Eagles ahead 38-35 at halftime and No. 6 Houston up 49-47 at the end of the third period.
After holding the slight advantage at the break, Liberty extended the lead to 42-35 after junior center Kaden Daniels sank shots from short range on back-to-back possessions. But the Tigers responded by closing out the third quarter with a 14-5 run, topped off by a pair of 3-pointers by senior guard Clayton Moore.
Moore opened the final period with a basket on a fast break to put Houston up 51-47, but the Eagles outscored the Tigers 18-7 the rest of the way. As both squads played tight, physical defense during the intense final minutes, a few missed shots and a couple of crucial turnovers helped lead to Houston’s undoing.
The Eagles were stellar at the free throw line in the contest, sinking 24-of-27 attempts and going 10-for-12 in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were 11-for-15 from the stripe, making 4-of-6 in the fourth period.
Houston sank only two shots from the field in the fourth quarter.
“We just have trouble scoring toward the end of the game,” said HHS head coach Rod Gorman, “and it bit us again tonight. A great effort by the guys; we played well and competed all night long.
“We just didn’t have enough at the end.”
Junior forward Ty Franklin led Houston in scoring with 18 points (including 11 in the first half), while Moore drained four treys and scored 16 in his final high school game. Tune finished with 15 points (including 10 in the first half), while seniors Dakota Burchett, Dalton Dzurick and Kyler Ramsey each added 3.
Liberty had four players score in double figures, led by Daniels with 18 points and senior Jaris Acklin with 17.
HOUSTON WINS BATTLE OF THE TIGERS
On Tuesday of last week, Houston recorded a 57-53 win over Salem in a South Central Association contest on Senior Night 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,” Gorman said, “and for them to win on Senior Night in front of a big crowd is exactly what they deserve.”
The Tigers jumped out to a 10-0 lead at the outset of the game and led by as much as 12 in the first half before Salem came back to trail by only a point with 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
With fans of both teams raising the roof during as the 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 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 stripe in the fourth quarter and led Houston in scoring with 18 points, while Franklin had 16 (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 only 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.
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.”
THIRD SCA WIN OF SEASON CAME EASY
Houston (13-12, 3-4 SCA) also won an SCA matchup Friday at Mountain Grove, 52-24. The Tigers pounced on the Panthers early and never looked back, leading 14-2 at the end of the first quarter and 26-8 at halftime.
Moore nailed five treys in the contest and led all scorers with 21 points, while Tune had 11 points, including 9 in the first quarter outburst.
Last season, Houston ended a 42-game losing streak against SCA opponents. This season, the Tigers took that to another level by winning three times in conference play and finishing with a winning record.
The Houston squad will lose nine players to graduation.
“The seniors have had a great career for us,” Gorman said. “They’ve done well.”