Mustangs buck Marshall out of post-season
MOBERLY -- When the post-season arrives, defenses step up the pressure and the rims seem to tighten up for shooters.
That was certainly the case during Wednesday's Class 4, District 9 Tournament semifinal clash, where both second-seeded Eldon and the third-seeded Marshall boys' basketball teams found points at a premium. Both gradually improved their offensive production throughout the contest, from a combined 12 points during the first quarter to 30 in the fourth, but the Mustangs did so sooner to avenge last year's five-point loss with a 47-32 victory.
"We wanted to control the tempo, get in our press and get up and down the floor," head coach Scott Harrold said of the Owls' game plan. Of course, "when you can't score, you can't press."
Marshall did as good of job taking care of the ball as it had all season, committing just eight turnovers, but couldn't find the mark -- converting just 24.1 percent of its field-goal attempts, including just two of 17 from three-point range.
Early in the game, it was just as tough for Eldon -- which made only two of 14 shots during the first quarter, Owls senior Elliot Moles rejecting four of them. Eventually, the Mustangs -- which had four players over 6-foot-4, including 6-8 sophomore Cody Kliethermes -- was able to get going inside, but not until after senior Kory Hannah knocked down a three-pointer to begin the second period.
Marshall went nearly five minutes without a goal, but kept the game close -- despite second-chance buckets by Kliethermes and junior Sam Bonnot. Moles and senior Josh Deaton made layups, but Kliethermes struck from the high post to give Eldon a seven-point halftime lead.
"Sometimes we had inside position, but the ball went over our heads or it went to the ground and we were out-hustled to it," Harrold said about a first half in which his squad allowed 10 offensive rebounds. "Their height wore on us."
Hannah hit two more bombs midway through the third quarter to put the Mustangs up by 12. Marshall was unable to answer from the perimeter, especially when senior Jonathan Durham -- the Owls' top long-range threat -- was being constantly shadowed by a "diamond and one" defense, similar to what Mexico had done two days earlier during its 39-36 loss.
"Even when we were penetrating and kicking it over to the wide-open shooters, we couldn't put the ball in the hole," Harrold said. The Owls were just three of 16 from the floor during the third frame. "When you're trying to play catch-up against a 'junk' defense, it makes it even more difficult."
Even though junior Jason Fann came off the bench to tally eight straight points for Marshall, the margin never returned to single digits. At no time during the fourth quarter did Eldon allow the Owls to score on back-to-back possessions, keeping its cushion comfortable by sinking eight of 10 free throws.
"They're a real solid ball club," Harrold observed. "Having those big kids go inside-out is going to cause matchup problems for a lot of teams."
Hannah had 16 points, junior Jamison Clemons added 10 and Kliethermes and senior Regan Wilson split 23 rebounds for the Mustangs (15-10) -- who will take on Fulton for the championship Friday.
No Marshall starter scored more than four points, a far cry from all-state guard Justin Durham's 26 points against Eldon the year before.
Even though the Owls (8-16) didn't make the district finals for the first time in four years -- like this season, one in which nearly its entire roster was new -- and posted the fewest wins since Harrold's debut team in '96, they may have given as consistent an effort has any he has coached.
"The six seniors did that," Harrold remarked. "They really got along well and it transferred onto the court.
"These kids really played hard and tried to do the things we asked them," he added. "That's all you can ask."