HHS junior Dakota James makes a move to the hoop in front of Summersville junior Tristan Duncan (11) during the fourth quarter of the Tigers' loss last last Friday night in Houston's new gym.

Playing twice at home last week, the Houston High School boys basketball team won once and lost once.

The Tigers beat Newburg 38-37 on Tuesday and fell to county rival Summersville on Friday, 55-38.

Trailing 35-26 early in the fourth quarter against Newburg, Houston mounted an epic comeback to earn the victory.

The rally was fueled by a combination of long-range shooting, timely defensive plays and key free throws. Senior Hunter McKinney provided the shooting by draining a 3-pointer with 3:50 left to cut the deficit to 35-31 and drilling another trey to pull the Tigers within a point at 37-36 with 1:39 to go.

Houston’s tenacious full-court defense forced the visiting Wolves to commit two crucial turnovers with less than a minute remaining, one at the 59-second mark and another with 8 seconds left. In between the turnovers, junior point guard Garyn Hall was fouled while shooting with 26 seconds to go and calmly made both free throws.

Newburg gained possession with time running out, but a desperation 3-point shot went in-and-out as the final buzzer sounded.

HHS head coach Jim Moore addresses his team during the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ win over Newburg last week in Houston’s new gym.

Both squads struggled to get their offenses going in the first half, as the score was tied at 5 after one quarter and knotted at 14 at the break.

The Wolves built a 28-23 lead by the end of the third period and enjoyed the 35-26 advantage when sophomore Colten Pound sank a 3-point shot with 5:27 left in the final period.

Junior forward Harold Lassiter had a breakout game for Houston, scoring a career-high 13 points and yanking down 11 rebounds. McKinney also hit a 3-ball in the first quarter and finished with 9 points, while Hall (playing for the first time since missing several games with an ankle injury) also scored 9.

Three players scored in double-figures for Newburg, as sophomore guard Dontae Harris had 11 points, while Colten Pound and his brother, senior forward Gunner Pound, had 10 apiece.

Still getting used to his team’s vastly different roster (as two key players are no longer with the team and senior Noah Gulick is sidelined with a knee injury), HHS head coach Jim Moore shuffled the lineup a bit and had McKinney start in the post for the first time.

Even while the Tigers were cold offensively, they kept their noses to the grindstone on defense and hit the boards hard on both ends of the floor. It paid off.

HHS junior guard Garyn Hall maneuvers with the ball in a key full of defenders during the second quarter of the Tigers’ win over Newburg.

“It was a little frustrating early,” Moore said. “The ball wouldn’t fall and we struggled on offense. But I was impressed with how strong our defense was all night and how we rebounded the ball. We preach all the time that those two things can keep you in a ballgame and they did. Then in the fourth quarter we finally got a little momentum and were able to put enough points on the board to win.”

Moore said Lassiter’s performance didn’t come as a surprise.

“He puts in a lot of time,” Moore said. “He’s the kid who’s there early and stays late, putting up shots and working on his post moves before and after practice. He’s a hard worker, and he’s hard-nosed and isn’t going to get pushed around.

“He does a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat column, and he does those things day in and day out that don’t get a lot of recognition.”

OFFENSIVE DROUGHT

In Friday’s game, the Tigers managed to score only 10 points in the first half and were in a 25-10 hole at the break.

After posting a mere 3 points in the second quarter, Houston got some offense going in the second half. But when junior forward Josh Prisco converted a 3-point play on a driving layup and a free throw with 46 seconds left in the third period, the visiting Wildcats had increased their advantage to 40-18 and they coasted home from there.

Early in the first quarter, the Tigers were behind by only a point at 6-5 after senior Tanner Lee sank a 3-pointer. But Houston was then outscored 10-2 during the rest of the period and never recovered.

HHS junior Harold Lassiter puts up a shot over the outstretched hand of Summersville sophomore Garrin Greear during the second quarter of the Tigers’ loss last last Friday night in Houston’s new gym.

Hall went 8-for-9 from the free throw line and led the Tigers in scoring in the contest with 12 points, while junior guard Dakota James had 6 and Lee and Lassiter added 5 apiece.

Junior forward Tristan Duncan led Summersville’s balanced scoring with a game-high 17 points, while Prisco and sophomore forward Gavin Greear each had 9 and sophomore guard Andrew Buschmann added 7.

“We didn’t get off to a good start again,” Moore said. “They pressed us early, but we really didn’t turn the ball over and we were able to get to the hole, we just didn’t convert. Had we done that, it would have been a totally different ballgame.

“They’ve got quite a bit of talent. They’ve got a couple of good outside shooters and a couple of guys who get it done for them on the inside. I was proud of our boys for not backing down and just keeping after it. We played a really good second half, but we got a little to far behind in the first half.”

Houston (4-7) opens South Central Association conference play Thursday (Jan. 13) at Mountain Grove.

The Tigers host the inaugural Houston Community Foundation Tournament next week. Houston is seeded fifth in the eight-team event and will face No. 4 Van Buren in a first round game at 7 p.m. Monday.

Other teams in the field include No. 1 Summersville, No. 2 Bakersfield, No. 3 Fordland, No. 6 Couch, No. 7 Cabool and No. 8 Koshkonong.

The event marks the return of a long-running tournament that for decades was known as one of the best in the region.

“We’re looking forward to showcasing the new gym and having an opportunity to compete,” Moore said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Moore figures scoring lulls and other difficulties will be a factor for at least a while, as his team is almost in an early-season mode with players adjusting to new roles as a result of major roster changes.

“We know those things are going to happen,” Moore said, “and we’re going to grow as we start to learn our new personnel and accept our new responsibilities. We’re running some new defense and doing some other things different, and it’s not perfect by any means. But the kids are getting better every day with it, and they’re starting to understand lots of things.

“And they’re excited about it, and that’s a big key. If they’re excited about it, they’re obviously going to work a bit harder, and that’s what’s been going on.”

Moore said the Tigers are focusing on playing their best for entire games.

“We’ve got to put four quarters together,” he said. “In almost any game you look at, we have two or maybe three good quarters, but there are always one or two quarters when we struggle, and during that time the game has gotten away from us. We need to do a better job of putting a complete game together, and that’s what we’re working on.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity, but I love that we have a bunch of resilient kids and they’re not backing down at all. It’s pretty fun to coach them right now.”

Doug Davison

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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