School of the Osage got back on track.
After two straight losses, the Indians hosted Versailles for Courtwarming Friday night and they did not let those miscues linger. Whether it was nine different players knocking down at least one bucket or a stifling defense that limited scoring opportunities, the home team was simply having fun and it showed in a 73-40 Tri-County Conference win over the Tigers.
“The kids responded to the stuff we did in practice this week. We had a couple of tough games where we really did not play well and played flat,” Osage coach Kevin Schnicker remarked. “To see the energy and enthusiasm back and the guys enjoying each other and having a good time tonight was really a pleasure to be a part of.”
Although the final result on the scoreboard may have been lopsided, this contest was much closer than it may initially appear. Osage started the game on a 7-0 run, but there were four ties and three lead changes in the first half as both sides vied to create some separation.
However, in the final 16 minutes, that narrative completely changed. Osage pulled away for good with a 29-24 lead by halftime and dominated the rest of the way. The Indians began the third quarter on another 7-0 run and never looked back.
After Versailles managed to keep pace with Osage in the first half, Schnicker knew some adjustments needed to be made.
“We talked about how we had to hedge the screens. We were not hedging really well and they (Versailles) got a couple of 3-pointers between (Coby) Williams and (Jonathon) Geier,” the coach pointed out. “I thought we did a really good job of adjusting in the second half hedging it, fighting over screens and really contesting shots and making those looks a lot harder so it was not an easy look. Then we went and rebounded.”
To Schnicker’s credit, the strategy worked out pretty well as the Tigers were not able to find some of the same rhythm they enjoyed in the first two quarters.
“Osage played a great game defensively and took away the things that we wanted to do,” Versailles coach Jason Ollison said. “I felt like in the first half we were able to exploit some of their weaknesses, but after halftime they made good adjustments and we kind of went into panic mode and tried to do everything as individuals.”
And when things may be getting tough, Ollison said that is when trust becomes the most vital.
“We talk a lot about trust. We have a tendency as a group to want to do everything as individuals, but in basketball you have to play together and Osage did that better than us tonight,” he noted. “But I love my guys and I know they will get it figured out.”
Meanwhile, Osage did not suffer from any offensive woes as the Indians knocked down 11 total 3-pointers and found ways to attack the Versailles defense as well. Senior Drake Gaines recorded six of those 3-pointers on his way to a team-leading 20 points while senior Zach Wheeler added 14 points, senior Keyton Knamiller finished with 13, junior Parker Jett contributed eight and fellow junior Trey Rassenfoss put up six respectively.
“It is easy to get the ball around when everyone is hitting (shots) because the defense can’t cover or guard all of us at once,” Gaines said. “We just distribute the ball and trust each other to hit the open shots.”
And that mindset is certainly a welcome one for Schnicker who loved to see his team work the ball inside and out, dribble and penetrate and make the extra pass for a good shot. However, the coach’s praise for his players went well beyond the ability to put the ball in the hoop and he did not hesitate to point out all the good things he saw Friday night.
“I thought our bench was amazing. Trey Rassenfoss hit some shots, Parker Jett played really well for us, Jordan Wade came in and got some quality minutes and Aaron Evans came off the bench as well,” he noted. “Our starting five came with a lot of energy… Keyton did a good job of keeping his calm all night, I thought Spencer Zeller did an amazing job of taking charges and so did Zach Wheeler. Drake Gaines hit some great, quality shots and when Keyton got in foul trouble he did a good job of controlling the flow instead of getting sped up. Isaac Yoder did a good job of what Isaac does and Garrett Sutherland was hitting the boards.
“It was a total team effort and hopefully I did not forget anybody,” Schnicker added with a smile. “It was fun to be able to see what we know they can do and see it all come together. We are trying to get that way at the end of the year.”
Williams led the Tigers offensively as the sophomore knocked down 17 points. Meanwhile, junior Wyatt Espinosa added 14 points and the senior Geier put up six points of his own. Although things may not have gone Versailles’ way, Ollison loves the drive his guys have for the game and will be looking for more of that down the stretch.
“Our passion was there. In fact, I think we were a little over-hyped for tonight,” the coach said. “Our guys were really wanting this one tonight and I think we got a little too amped too early. But, we will learn from it and make tonight a lesson instead of a mistake.”
And the approach to each game will play a big role in the way the Tigers respond. Versailles (10-10, 1-3 Tri-County Conference) will host Hallsville on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
“Treat each game the same. We have to have the mindset that there are no big games,” Ollison pointed out. “Get your mind to the same place every single night to perform. Tuesday at St. Paul we had a controlled intense mindset going in and we played great and got a win against a state-ranked opponent. Tonight, we were intense, but beyond the controlled part. We let our emotions control us and that is what led to our poor shooting and defensive struggles in the second half.
“But we will learn from it and this loss will make us better for the postseason.”
For Schnicker, this game could also provide valuable lessons to his club. One of the most important things the coach looks to teach his players is how to respond to adversity.
“We always look at life lessons and try to do character things with the guys. Know that, hey, in life things are not going to be easy,” he stated. “But you know what, the sun is going to shine tomorrow even if we had a bad day and we have to put our pants back on and get back to work. We did that, the kids responded and hopefully we can get something out of it. I’m proud of them.”
Osage (10-10, 2-0 Tri-County Conference) will visit Southern Boone for another conference clash at 5 p.m., as the Indians look to maintain their momentum. Gaines has an idea about how to do just that.
“Keep this intensity and focus for sure, this drive and confidence,” the senior said. “I’m proud of the guys, they did a hell of a job tonight.”