HHS junior Dakota James makes a move with the ball while being defended by Plato senior Wyatte Cotrel during the second quarter of the Tigers’ loss last Friday in Houston’s new gym. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

Despite being severely short-handed, the Houston High School boys basketball team seemed to be in pretty good shape with a 20-16 halftime lead in a home game last Friday against county rival Plato.

But things turned for worse in a big way in the second half, and the visiting Eagles eventually came away to a 59-34 victory.

The Tigers and head coach Jim Moore were forced to play the game with a makeshift lineup, as they were not only without two key starters who are no longer with the team, but minus starting point guard Garyn Hall (who was sidelined with a sprained ankle) and starting guard Noah Gulick (who was out with a knee injury).

As a result, Houston’s starting five featured some newcomers and the bench included several junior varsity players.

“I liked our resilience the first half,”  Moore said. “We played hard and executed a game plan. We have to figure out how to do that for four quarters.” 

The Tigers managed to build the 4-point halftime advantage after 16 minutes of play that saw both teams struggle to make shots from the field. In Hall’s absence, junior Dakota James was at the point for Houston and had some success from long range, sinking three 3-pointers before the break.

HHS senior Hunter McKinney (10) spots up for a shot during the first quarter of the Tigers’ loss to Plato last Friday in Houston’s new gym.

But after being ice cold in the first half, the Eagles heated up in the third quarter, nailing four shots from 3-point land and outscoring their hosts 24-7. The Tigers scored 7 points again in the final period, while Plato added another 19.

Houston actually extended the lead to 24-18 on a basket by senior guard Tanner Lee with 5:50 left in the third quarter, but the Eagles went on a 22-3 run over the remainder of the period, scoring 15 unanswered points from the 3:33 mark until the buzzer.

“We executed pretty well in the first half,” Moore said. “Defensively, we kept them out of rhythm. Offensively, we didn’t play real well or we could have had a bigger halftime lead than we did. 

“In the second half, we ran out of gas. We didn’t block out very well and didn’t close out on their shooters hard enough or with our hands up. They hit some shots and we struggled to get anything going.”

HHS sophomore John Kimrey maneuvers with the ball in a crowded key during the second quarter of the Tigers’ home loss to Plato last Friday.

James led the Tigers in scoring in the game with 13 points, while Lee and senior guard Hunter McKinney had 6 apiece. Sophomore guard John Kimrey made his first-ever varsity start and scored 5 points for Houston, while junior forward Harold Lassiter also got his first start and added 4.

Three players each scored 13 points for Plato, including senior guard Wyatte Cotrel, senior forward Levi Johnson and sophomore forward Lane Johnson. Lane Johnson helped fuel the Eagles’ third quarter scoring outburst by tossing in 9 points in the period.

Plato (4-5) went 9-for-16 from the free throw line in the contest, while the Tigers were 0-for-5.

Next week, Houston (3-4) is in the field at the annual Blue and Gold Tournament in Springfield.

Playing in the 16-team Blue Division, the unseeded Tigers will face second-seeded Kickapoo at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Hammons Student Center at Missouri State University. Win or lose, Houston will play again at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in either JQH Arena at MSU (if they win) or the HSC (if they lose).

“The goal is to compete and get better,” Moore said. “We have the opportunity to find out a lot about ourselves. We have no pressure on us other than to work our tails off, compete for four quarters and improve. 

“That’s what we plan to do.”

Moore said he doesn’t know when Hall and Gulick will be available again.

“I don’t have a timetable on either player at this point,” he said. “We wish them the best in recovery and look forward to their return.

“It’s going to be imperative for us to execute game plans from here on out. We will have to scheme more and trust each other to carry it out.”

To view a photo gallery from the Tigers’ game against Plato (with the option to purchase photos), click here.

The Blue and Gold Tournament’s Blue Division bracket.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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