FARINA – First-year coach Rick Simmons said he didn’t know exactly what to expect from the South Central High School boys basketball team in its season-opener against Odin last Friday.
While the Cougars lost, what Simmons got was a hard-fought battle that was closer than the 47-42 final score would indicate.
“I don’t think anyone can fault their effort,” he said.
Especially considering South Central (0-2, 0-1 Midland Trail Conference) was ahead or in striking distance for nearly the entire game, only falling behind by more than three midway through the fourth quarter. Odin made 5-of-7 free throws in the final minute to keep a Cougar comeback at bay.
Had the Eagles missed some of those shots, the outcome may have been different.
Sophomore Fischer Tharp drove through the lane for an easy layup with 36 seconds left, and junior Colby Bushue made a leaping shot in the lane on the next possession.
Odin, however, made two free throws after each of those shots to preserve its four-point lead.
A 3-point attempt by senior Derek Harmeier fell short with about 10 seconds left, but after senior Nathan Hill grabbed a rebound off a missed free throw, the ball was turned over to Odin to end the game.
“I told them, ‘The only thing that this tells you is that you’re not going to be undefeated,’” Simmons said. “‘Stop and think about it – how many teams in the state will be?’”
The game was knotted at seven after the first quarter, and it appeared that Odin would take control in the middle of the second period after the Eagles made back-to-back second-chance buckets to take an 18-15 lead.
“You have to get the mindset that if the shot goes up, find somebody (and box out),” Simmons said. “If the ball drops in front of you, then you can have five guys skirmish for it.
“We will eventually get there. I know they are working hard to do it.”
The Cougars halted the Odin run after grabbing three straight defensive rebounds, and Harmeier, Hill and senior
Ross Stock each made shots during a 7-0 South Central run that gave it a 22-18 advantage with less than a minute left in the half.
Odin then made another second-chance bucket, and after the Cougars missed a shot with about 10 seconds left, they lost Michael Finley in transition. Finley netted a 3-pointer with about one second left in the half to give Odin a 23-22 lead, deflating South Central’s momentum.
“Things like that are going to happen,” Simmons said. “You talk about the error, and how to correct it.”
Odin sank its first bucket of the second half, but the Cougars persevered, eventually taking back the lead after senior Taylor Cain stole the ball and made a breakaway layup. The game was tied at 33 after three quarters.
Tharp had a team-high 16 points, but Simmons said he was encouraged by his team’s other shooters, because he has several players who are playing significant minutes for the first time in their careers.
“When it’s all said and done, we’ll be very balanced,” Simmons said.
South Central’s scoring effort became more balanced on Saturday, as eight players scored in a 59-34 loss to Flora.
Flora’s junior point guard Paul Knapp, who had been averaging 24 points per game, was injured in the Wolves’ contest with Bridgeport on Friday and did not play against South Central.
In his place, 6-foot-6 Nick Painter scored only 11 points, but the Cougars struggled to find offense of their own, while spotting Flora a 19-7 lead after the first quarter, which was too much to overcome.
Bushue led the Cougars with seven points, while Tharp and senior Andrew Snow each scored six.
On Tuesday, the Cougars lost to Sandoval, 67-53.
Tharp (19 points) and Harmeier (10) led the way for South Central.
Tuesday, Dec. 8
South Central 53
Points – Tharp, 19; Harmeier, 10; Bushue, 8; Snow, 8; Cain, 2; Tyler Harpster, 2; Colton Wilkins, 2; Hill, 2;
Record – 0-3 (0-2 MTC)
JV – South Central won
Up Next – vs. Altamont on Friday
Saturday, Dec. 4
South Central 34
Points – Bushue, 7; Snow, 6; Tharp, 6; Cain, 4; Hill, 4; Rudy Hablewitz, 3; Harmeier, 3; Stock, 1.
Record – 0-2 (0-1 MTC)
JV – South Central lost 29-26
Friday, Dec. 3
South Central 42
Points – Tharp, 16; Harmeier, 6; Bushue, 5; Snow, 5; Cain, 4; Hill, 4; Stock, 2.
Record – 0-1 (0-1 MTC)
JV – South Central won 28-20