For a while during consolation bracket game against Koshkonong in the inaugural Houston Community Foundation Tournament last Friday night in Houston’s new gym, the Houston High School boys basketball team shook off the offensive woes that had led to several losses of late.
Scoring with proficiency and efficiency in the second half, the fourth-seeded Tigers beat No. 8 Koshkonong 51-39.
But in the event’s fifth-place game the following night, Houston again had trouble generating points and fell to second-seeded Bakersfield, 64-34.
After the two teams traded blows throughout the first half of Friday’s game, Houston led Koshkonong 20-19 at the break.
The Tigers then heated up in the third quarter, sinking three 3-pointers in the period. Not long after junior guard Dakota James put Houston on top 22-20 with a short-range bucket in traffic early in the quarter, junior point guard Garyn Hall nailed back-to-back 3-balls to give the Tigers a 28-21 advantage.
The Blue Jays cut the deficit to 28-26 with a 3-pointer by sophomore Riley Villavicencio with 2:51 left in the period.
But when senior Hunter McKinney drilled a trey with 2 seconds remaining, Houston led 33-26 going into the fourth quarter.
Senior Tanner Lee then got the hot hand for the Tigers, sinking two 3-pointers and scoring 9 points to guide the Tigers to the win. Lee put Houston ahead 36-28 by converting an old fashioned 3-point play with a tough basket in a crowd down low and a free throw at the 6:45 mark, but the Blue Jays made a run and trailed 40-36 after a 3-point play by senior forward Kaiden Burgess with 3:17 to go.
With time running down, Lee put the game out of reach by drilling two crucial treys, one with 2:07 left to make it a 45-36 game and another with 1:25 remaining to put Houston up 48-36.
Hall finished with a season-high 17 points to lead the Tigers in scoring, while Lee had 12 (also a season-high), James had 10 and McKinney added 8.
Only three players scored for Koshkonong in the contest. Burgess went 9-for-12 at the free throw line and led the way with a game-high 23 points, while Villavicencio had 11 and sophomore Jobe Sturgeon added 5.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well in the first half, but we got a lot of good looks,” said HHS head coach Jim Moore. “Then in the second half we still got the good looks, but the ball starts falling. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when you’re making shots.”
Houston did a good job of dealing with Koshkonong’s two talented big men – Burgess and Sturgeon – and didn’t allow many second-chance baskets. The Tigers’ big men did experience some foul trouble, though.
“I thought we overcame that pretty well,” Moore said. “We played some good team defense and kept them down long enough to put enough points on the board to beat them.”
Lee not only provided an offensive spark, but was a force on the boards on both ends of the floor and came up with some key defensive plays.
“That was probably his best game overall – maybe in his career,” Moore said. “He made a lot of hustle plays.”
OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES RETURN
Houston got off to a good start against Bakersfield, leading 14-11 at the end of the first quarter.
But the Eagles’ offense then heated up big-time and they outscored the Tigers 24-9 in the second period and 17-3 in the third.
Bakersfield’s second quarter outburst featured 9 field goals, including four 3-pointers.
The No. 2 Eagles surprisingly fell to seventh-seeded Cabool, 45-41 in the first round. Cabool was then blown out by No. 3 Fordland in the semifinals, 49-15.
“I’m not sure how Bakersfield lost in the first round,” Moore said. “They were a two-seed for a reason, but had a tough night and Cabool took advantage. Then in their next two games they were lights-out; they have really good guard play and post play.”
McKinney sank three shots from behind the arc in the contest and led Houston in scoring with 11 points, while James had 9 and Hall added 4.
Sophomore guard Ethan Cotter sank five 3-pointers and scored 19 points to lead Bakersfield’s balanced scoring attack, while senior Jake Freeman had 18 and sophomore Mason Bean drained four treys and added 14.
In an HCF Tournament first round game on Monday of last week, Houston fell to Van Buren in overtime, 37-34.
Top-seeded Summersville won the tournament championship, routing Fordland in Saturday’s final game, 73-48.
The Tigers’ lone game this week is a nonconference contest Thursday at Seymour. Next week, Houston begins a flurry of six straight South Central Association matchups with a Tuesday game at Thayer and a Thursday game at Liberty.
“We’re still just trying to get better,” Moore said. “With the exception of the Bakersfield game, our defense has been getting a lot better the past couple of weeks. We might add a couple of wrinkles to our defense, and we know that’s where success lies for us.
“We’re not going to be a team that will put a ton of points on the board night in and night out, but we know we can have a chance to compete by playing solid defense and rebounding the basketball. That’s not to say we don’t have some kids who can shoot the ball, but we have to get more consistent with that.
“But I preach to the guys that there’s no reason we can’t play defense every night; that’s not really a talent thing, it’s about effort, hustle and being coachable, and doing all the little things on that end of the floor to help your team win.”
After playing at Cabool on Feb. 8, the Tigers (5-11, 0-1 SCA) will wrap up the regular season with three straight SCA home games, beginning with one against Ava on Feb. 11.
To view a photo gallery from the Tigers’ game against Koshkonong (with the option to purchase photos), click here.
HOUSTON COMMUNITY FOUNDATION TOURNAMENT SCORES
No. 5 Van Buren 37, No. 4 Houston 34 (OT)
No. 1 Summersville 68, No. 8 Koshkonong 58
No. 7 Cabool 45, No. 2 Bakersfield 41
No. 3 Fordland 82, No. 6 Couch 59
Summersville 47, Van Buren 37
Fordland 49, Cabool 15
Houston 51, Koshkonong 39
Bakersfield 76, Couch 50
Summersville 73, Fordland 48
Van Buren 54, Cabool 42
Bakersfield 64, Houston 34
Couch 69, Koshkonong 64