Strong fourth quarter gives Indians the edge

It was a battle from start to finish when Osage hosted Camdenton on the basketball court Friday night. 

In a game with eight ties and lead changes nothing could be taken for granted, but the Indians prevailed and managed to pull away late for a 62-54 win over the Lakers. 

Osage senior Drake Gaines nailed a big 3-pointer with 38.7 seconds remaining to give his team a two-possession 56-52 advantage and fellow senior Zach Wheeler made all six of his free throws in the final quarter to put the contest out of reach. For Wheeler, the game simply came down to being wise on both ends of the floor. 

“I think it was just taking care of the ball, playing as a team and making some smart passes, not trying to force anything. Taking care of the ball was the biggest part of sealing the victory,” the senior said of the offensive efforts. 

“I think it was just playing smart, walling up and not fouling them (Camdenton) when they were driving to the hoop. Not trying to do too much reaching to get steals,” he added of the defense. 

Osage certainly showed some resiliency, but this is nothing new for a team that is currently riding a four-game winning streak. Coach Kevin Schnicker said it was not always perfect with his team being mentally relaxed and fatigued at times, but they came to fight when the going got tough. 

“I thought we fought adversity and late in the fourth quarter when we talked during one of the timeouts, I let them know that, ‘Hey, we are fine. We are wearing them down and are going to make some shots down the stretch here. Relax and we are going to win the game at the free throw line, but we have to go rebound,’” Schnicker recalled. “A couple of times we still didn’t, but I thought they (Camdenton) really attacked the glass on us and did some things that gave us some fits for a while.” 

Camdenton did not make things easy, but it all came together for Osage in the end. After the Lakers took a 37-36 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, the Indians quickly regained it and did not trail the rest of the way. 

Wheeler finished the night with 20 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, to lead all scorers. Meanwhile, fellow senior Keyton Knamiller knocked down 16 points with half of those coming in the fourth quarter and Gaines put up 14 points of his own to fuel the offense. Osage also shot 67 percent as a team from the free throw line with Wheeler making all 10 of his attempts from the charity stripe for the night. 

“We have a free throw ladder and we compete on free throws every day,” Knamiller pointed out. “We shoot 10 and whoever makes the most out of 10 moves up. 

“’Free Throw Shooter Guru’ over here is number one,” the senior said with a smile in reference to Wheeler. “So fouling him was probably not the smartest choice in the end for Camdenton, but it worked out for us so we are happy with it.”  

Free throws were key, but one of the things Schnicker enjoyed the most was seeing a confidence permeate throughout the team as contributions came from everywhere. 

“On Drake’s three (3-pointer), I think once he made that our kids were like, ‘We’re not losing,’” the coach said of the big shot that gave his club a two-possession lead late. “The confidence-builder for him to take that shot, Zach and Isaac (Yoder’s) free throws down the stretch, Keyton staying calm with the ball, Jacob (Hermann) getting in and creating things, Spencer (Zeller) crashing (the basket), Parker (Jett) hitting the three (pointer) when we needed one at the time- all these guys contributed.

“It was good to have all those things come together and we did not really have to worry about one or two guys carrying the load.” 

Gaines can certainly attest to the confidence he felt after knocking down four 3-pointers on the night. 

“I was a little hesitant with it at first at the beginning of the season, but I started to fix my shot, find my groove and started hitting threes,” he said. “I mean, we work the big shots in practice. When we are down and have situations, we have to fulfill that and get the ‘W’ at the end of the day.” 

But the Osage defense was just as effective after the Indians forced 14 total Camdenton turnovers including four in the fourth quarter. One of the goals for Schnicker’s program is to get three stops in a row at the end of a game and he was proud of the defensive effort on display. 

“If we get three stops right here, rebound and make free throws, that is going to win the game,” he stated. “We really tried to get three stops and I think we forced them to shoot some deep threes (3-pointers) so I think just having that mentality to try to finish the game with three stops helped us close the game out.” 

Camdenton certainly had its chances down the stretch, but a few injuries and some foul trouble did not make the task any easier for Coach Craig Campbell’s crew. 

“Guys got banged up. It was a very physical game and way too physical for a high school game to be honest, but it was both ways,” Campbell noted. “That is kind of what got us in the fourth quarter is that we had a few guys bumped and bruised and when Kelton Virtue went down that kind of deflated ourselves a little bit. 

“Hopefully he is ok and can come back,” the coach said of Virtue’s leg injury. “But the biggest thing was the physicalness.” 

Campbell said his club is also still learning how to close out games after the Lakers led by as many as three points against the Indians and had their chances down the stretch. Camdenton erased an 8-point third quarter deficit and was tied up at 49 with 2:07 remaining in the game before the Indians managed to pull away. 

“We have six losses and we’ve had the lead in five of them in the last minute of every game with the exception of the Helias game where three starters fouled out,” Campbell remarked. “Varsity experience is not something we have. We are learning on the fly, but in these games we learn a little bit more about ourselves. We’ll be ok and we’ll start clicking. 

“These games are always tough, and especially when you have three in a row where you felt like you had it (the game) and it kind of slipped away. The main thing is that they keep improving, work hard and we’ll get over the hump eventually.” 

As tough as close losses may be, the one thing the coach could never discount so far this season is the effort his guys are displaying night in and night out. 

“They are playing their tails off and you cannot fault them for their effort whatsoever. They are playing hard and the biggest factor that we have going against us is just our lack of experience,” Campbell noted. “We had a few guys that played some last year, but never really had varsity experience and we are relying on guys that did not play hardly at all… So we are learning on the fly as we go and our games don’t get any easier, but as long as we keep working hard we’ll be alright.” 

Camdenton junior Kelton Virtue scored 11 of his 17 total points in the second half to lead the Lakers while both sophomores Brandon Pasley and Paxton DeLaurent chipped in 12 points each to keep their team fighting. 

“Brandon played the best game he has played all year. If it wasn’t for him we would not have been in the ballgame,” Campbell pointed out. “He had several steals and deflections on defense and offensively it was the best scoring night he has had, but he was aggressive. He looked to attack the basket, knocked down a couple shots and got us into what we needed to get to try to get a good look and a bucket… He kind of ran the show for us tonight. 

“Kelton played really well too until he went down and when he went down it kind of took the winds out of our sails. I Thought Garrett Golliher did a heck of a job on the Wheeler kid and he (Wheeler) hit two big threes (3-pointers), but he shut him down for most of the game. He (Wheeler) just knocked down the shots when he got open.” 

At the same time, Campbell went on to say that his club just has to do a better job of taking care of the little things which add up over the course of a game. On the bright side, the team has cut down turnovers from an average of 20 per game to 12, but Campbell would like that number to continue decreasing.

“We have to figure out when we get a rebound to stop it (the ball), make sure it is solid (possession) and not just try to take off. We have to make sure we actually grab the rebound, not tip it around and make sure sure we are the first people on the floor and not the second for loose balls,” he stated. “Once we figure out that a turnover we had in the first quarter that led to a bucket factors in at the end of the game, we’ll start cutting those out and hopefully soon.” 

Camdenton (1-6) will look to bounce back in the Blue and Gold Tournament in Springfield, which runs from December 26 through 29. The Lakers will take on Hartville at 2 p.m., on December 26 in the Hammonds Student Center at Missouri State University and for Campbell, the message to his team is simple. 

“We have to keep our heads up and keep working hard,” he stated. “I mean, after a loss you kind of do, but each day we have come back in and worked hard and we have to keep working on things we need to improve upon… As long as we keep improving we’ll be ok.” 

For Osage (5-3) it is all about continuing the momentum that has built up over the past four games as the Indians look to get ready for the Tri-County Conference Tournament on their home floor from December 30 through January 6 as the third seed. According to MSHSAA records (Missouri State High School Activities Association), it has been at least 10 years since Osage has beaten Camdenton. After a 64-60 loss in 2015 and a 50-48 loss last season, the Indians will not take this win lightly moving forward. 

“It feels good because we have not beaten them in a really long time. It is a confidence-booster for us because going into the break we have our conference tournament and we’ll ride this win streak into the tournament and hopefully get some wins,” Wheeler stated. 

“Coming off a loss, we have a long time to think about it with break and everything. So coming off a good win, even though we did not play as well as we could have, really helps us going into break,” added Knamiller. 

Schnicker was certainly proud of his team’s accomplishment with the fight his guys showed, but it was also a great learning moment for his club. 

“We’ve had some problems early. We’ve had some injuries and some games that did not go the way we wanted to. Now, we are finding a way to win games again,” the coach stated. “It was a game that could have gone either way and we were able to get it so it was good for us… “Being able to get on the right track before the holidays, spending time with our families, letting the guys enjoy things- it is going to be a time for everybody to get a couple of days off. Then, we are going to get back and practice for three or four days, get refocused and hopefully we’ll keep getting better.”