The task was a tough one for Camdenton Friday night.

The Lakers welcomed a Rolla team that was unbeaten in the Ozark Conference and the Bulldogs showed why as the combination of a stout defense and an efficient offense allowed the visitors to remain unbeaten as they topped Camdenton 72-47. 

"Rolla might win the conference. Glendale might have something to say about that, but if not, that might be their only loss in conference," Camdenton coach Craig Campbell said. "They are a good team and they’ll go a long ways in the postseason.”

Rolla did not run away with this one from the start, but it never trailed either. Rather, the Bulldogs simply stayed consistent and forced Camdenton to respond. What started off as a slim 2-point Rolla lead after the first quarter snowballed into a 21-point lead by the start of the fourth and the Lakers found the hole the proverbial hole they were in getting deeper and deeper. 

For Campbell, the way the first half ended kind of set the tone for how the rest of the game played out. 

“The end of the first half kind of hurt. We gave up seven points in the final 30 seconds and instead of being down four, we were down 11 going into halftime,” the coach pointed out. “The biggest thing is we were doing what we wanted to and making them take tough shots, but we just gave up too many offensive rebounds in the first half. 

The second half did not fare much better as the 3-2 zone defense Rolla presented put Camdenton’s offense in a funk and Campbell said the size and athleticism of Rolla was not easy to get around. The Lakers finished with 21 total turnovers for the game.

“We turned the ball over a few times, gave them easy layups, took a couple of tough shots and it was just one of those where they made a few shots in the third quarter and we missed a few, so it expanded the lead. 

“Our effort was not where it needed to be in the third quarter to really hang with them and keep going, but we battled. In the fourth quarter, we showed we were not done and kept fighting.” 

When the chips may be down and the Lakers are having a tough time getting in rhythm, Campbell said there are two options. The first is to call a timeout to get his guys back in it and the second is to have the players learn and figure things out on their own. As the Rolla lead continued to grow, Campbell went with the latter. 

“It was one of those where they have to realize, ‘Hey, we can’t settle for 3-pointers, we can’t just jack up a shot because they made one on the other end. We have to slow them down, make them play defense and get the shot we want,’” the coach noted. “We did that for the most part tonight and better than we have been in the past. 

“The biggest thing is that we have to learn that when we turn it over, we have to do something different,” the coach added. “It is a learning experience.”

Paxton DeLaurent paced Camdenton with 14 points while Keegan Ford added eight and both T.J. Anderson and Kelton Virtue put up six respectively. Despite what the scoreboard showed, Campbell said he saw a few good things on the floor that he would like to see more of going forward. However, the coach also pointed out that a full team effort will be required for any future success.

“T.J. started being more aggressive offensively and he is at his best when he is doing that because it picks up his defense also,” the coach remarked. “Luke Eveland did a good job of attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line and Garrett Golliher battled. 

“For us to win ballgames it has to be a total team effort and if we can put a full four quarters together, we are pretty good. We just struggle at doing that.” 

But the good news is that there is still time for the Lakers to improve and Campbell said his team has come a long way from the beginning of the year. The coach is confident that his club can finish strong in the final stretch of the regular season with Battle, Hillcrest and Lebanon. In the final game against the rival Yellowjackets, the Highway 5 trophy will be on the line for the first time on the hardwood and the coach said his club should have no issue being motivated for that contest. 

“Looking at the rest of the season, as long as we keep fighting we can knock some people off and make some noise at the end. I hope the boys realize just how much I know we are capable of doing it,” the coach stated.

That same attitude applies to the district tournament at Willard as well. Campbell said there is no team his club should be scared of and he borrowed the popular football phrase of “Any Given Sunday” when it comes to those future opponents. 

“That has been my message to the boys all year- what have we got to lose? Nobody expects us to win a game so we might as well go out and play as hard as we can, make some noise, give some people some scares and pull some out here and there,” he said. “We can play with any of them. 

“Going into districts, even though the record says this and that, it is really 0-0. It is who comes and plays… and that is why you play the game. There are a lot of teams expected to win that get knocked off early in the playoffs because they are not ready to go. The team that is probably not as talented or supposed to be there ends up winning so why not us?” 

Camdenton (3-18, 0-7 Ozark Conference) will host Battle of Columbia for Senior Night on Tuesday at 7 p.m.