Anderson's big free throws help Lakers top their rival

It came down to a pair of free throws.

Camdenton's T.J. Anderson stepped up to the charity stripe at Lebanon Thursday night with his team down by a single point and 2.3 seconds remaining on the clock. Despite losing to Lebanon by five points earlier in the season at the Blue and Gold Tournament, Camdenton coach Craig Campbell and Anderson's teammates had all the confidence that he would sink those two shots and that is exactly what Anderson did as the Lakers topped the Yellowjackets 62-21 in the regular season finale.

"I kept telling him that, 'After you make these two free throws, this is what we have to do.' I kept telling him that and everyone else said, 'After you get this,' so it gave him the confidence to not second-guess himself," Campbell said of the timeout discussion before Anderson stepped up to the line. "He swishes the first one and it made the second one a lot easier to shoot." 

After the second swish, Lebanon opted to throw a deep pass for a last-second shot, but it was intercepted and the Lakers walked away with a win. What made the victory a little sweeter for Camdenton was the fact that not only had the Lakers erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter against their rival, but the extra incentive of claiming the first Highway 5 basketball trophy between the schools. 

Campbell and Lebanon coach Adam Thornhill decided to play for a trophy this season in the annual rivalry, and it is a trophy that is considerably larger than the one the football teams play for. This was a game Campbell's club had circled on the calendar all year.

"We kind of took after football and as you can tell by the size, apparently we tried to 'One-up' the football trophy," the coach said with a smile. "It was definitely something the boys wanted a lot. The rivalry between Camdenton and Lebanon is big anyway, but now they have something to show when they win it and it made the win even more special I guess."

It was a nail-biter right to the end as there were two lead changes until the score was tied up with about 1:38 left to go. Lebanon tried to run some clock in what could have potentially been the game's final shot, but Camdenton's Kelton Virtue managed to secure a steal to give his team the ball back.

Campbell said if Lebanon chose to play zone defense, the plan was to hold the ball for the last shot. If they opted to play man-to-man defense, the plan of attack was to go score a basket. The Yellowjackets went with the former option and Virtue received the ball in the high post with just under 15 seconds left and missed a jumper. Lebanon pulled down the rebound and proceeded to hit one of two free throws with 8.9 seconds left. 

Campbell told Anderson ahead of time that if he got the rebound, to go coast-to-coast and drive straight to the basket without slowing down or making a pass. Anderson happened to secure that rebound and the rest was history. 

Anderson and Paxton DeLaurent led the Lakers with 15 points while Virtue finished with a double-double that featured 12 points and 10 rebounds. Camdenton (4-20) closed out the regular season with a win and picked up some momentum at exactly the right time before districts. 

"It was big. It gave us the confidence we could pull those games out," Campbell said of the win.

And now, the Lakers will look to keep winning in the postseason. Camdenton will begin district play against Springfield Central on Saturday and for Campbell, this tournament could belong to anyone. The coach noted a lot of his players contributed to Thursday night's win and it is a trend he would like to see continue.

"We play Central tomorrow, which is no pushover. They don't have a great record, but they are athletic and can give us fits so we have to make sure we are focused and ready to play against them," he stated.

"It (Lebanon win) shows that our district is as wide open as I've been telling them all year. Any of the five teams can win it and it just depends on who is playing well at the time. We did not play our best game, but one of our better games and hopefully we can continue to work like we did." 

Saturday's first-round game will tip off in Willard at 2:30 p.m. Should Camdenton advance, they will play Waynesville in the semifinals on Tuesday at 6 p.m.