At this year’s 73rd annual Blue and Gold Tournament in Springfield, the Houston High School boys basketball team absorbed a pair of losses.

Playing in the 16-team Gold Division, the unseeded Tigers fell 76-22 to top-seeded Hartville in a first round contest last Saturday in JQH Arena at Missouri State University, and were then defeated 68-57 by Buffalo in a consolation bracket game on Monday in the New Gym at Greenwood High.

“We didn’t perform the way we thought we could or should,” said Tigers head coach Jim Moore.

The outcome of the contest against Hartville was all but decided by the end of the first quarter, as Houston was already behind 29-2. The defending Class 2 state champion Eagles went on to lead 45-8 at halftime and 67-11 at the end of the third period.

Hartville senior Ryce Piper led all scorers in the game with 25 points (including 13 in the first quarter), while senior forward Ty Franklin led the Tigers with 12 points.

“We didn’t play very well against a very good Hartville team,” Moore said. “We didn’t execute offensively, we didn’t play as well defensively as we possibly could and we didn’t take care of the ball.”

Despite the lopsided result, Moore figures the game presented some benefit to his players.

“It was good for the guys to play in that environment in a big arena like JQH, and it was good for them to get to play one of the best teams in the state in all classes,” he said. “That kind of shows them what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to get to. That was the first time a lot of our kids have played in an arena like that against that caliber of a team. I think it’s good to let the kids be a part of something like that, and hopefully we can learn from it.”

On Monday, Houston struggled to make shots in the first half but still trailed by only a point after the first quarter at 15-14 and by 5 at halftime at 29-24. The Tigers then went on a 13-2 run in the third period to take a 6-point lead, but their momentum stalled and the Bison were back on top at end of the quarter, 55-42.

Franklin and junior forward Korbyn Tune each scored 20 points for Houston in the game, with Franklin pouring in 18 in the second half.

Junior Jaren Smith led the Bison in scoring with 22 points, while junior Pierce Oberneufemann sank four 3-pointers and finished with 17.

“We played well at times and not so well at times,” Moore said. “I thought we were getting ready to roll in the third quarter, but Buffalo made some plays and made some shots and we just weren’t able to hold them off.

“But I like our kids’ effort in that game, especially the way they bounced back after basically getting drilled by Hartville. We were competitive and we came to play and I feel like we had a great opportunity to win, but it just didn’t happen for us.”

Both the Blue and Gold Division championship games are set for Thursday of this week (Dec. 31) in JQH Arena (Blue at 2 p.m. and Gold at 4 p.m.).

Next up for the Tigers (4-6) is a road game on Friday, Jan. 8, against county rival Summersville.

Moore said that working on defense will be a priority in upcoming practices.

“We can work on all parts of our game for sure,” he said, “but we have to get better defensively. We’ve got to get to where we can hold people down and give ourselves more opportunities on the other end.”

Buffalo employed full-court defensive pressure for the entire game against Houston, and Moore said the Tigers could have handled it better.

“We need to learn to attack a press,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job when teams press us. We need to flip the script on them and punish them for thinking they can press us by not only breaking it but getting layups on the offensive end.

“If we can get those two things fixed, fine tune our offense and continue to find our identity, we’ll be all right.”

Houston’s next home game is set for Tuesday, Jan. 12, against Norwood. The Tigers will begin South Central Association conference play by facing Mountain Grove on Friday, Jan. 15, in Hiett Gymnasium.