Indians finish fourth in Tri-County Conference Tournament

Victory slipped away from Osage in the final seconds Friday night. 

The Indians hosted Southern Boone in the third place game of the Tri-County Conference Tournament and things were looking up for the host team as they took a nine-point lead into the final quarter. However, the Eagles ramped up the pressure, tied the game up at 66 and with about a minute remaining, used their final possession for Sam Stichnote sink a 3-point play (foul after the basket) in the middle of the lane with 3.5 seconds remaining. The ensuing free throw was missed and Osage senior Keyton Knamiller banked in a potential game-winning 3-pointer with a pair of defenders in his face, but the officials waved off the shot and determined the ball left his hands after the buzzer. 

The end result was a 68-66 loss for Osage who finished fourth in the conference tournament. 

“We decided to play it out because it was tied instead of fouling and letting them shoot for us to try to get a different shot or something. You can second guess that all you want to,” Osage Kevin Schnicker said of the final minute of play where Southern Boone pulled ahead late. “We decided our best chance was to play it out and I thought we did a good job of trapping it (the ball) and getting it out of his (Stichnote) hands, but we allowed him to get it back on a closeout and we knew who they were going to try to go to so we should have done a little better job.

“Hopefully we can learn from it and be able to capitalize on that opportunity later in the same situation. I’ll take the full blame. We have to do a better job of preparing our kids to handle those situations. We had an opportunity to win it and we did not finish,” the coach added. 

Southern Boone took the early advantage in the contest, extending their lead to as high as seven before Osage came storming back and cut the deficit to four at halftime. The third quarter went about as well as the Indians could ask for as as they outscored the visitors 24 to 11. Unfortunately, the combination of a 21-12 Southern Boone run and five of Osage’s 14 total turnovers coming in the final frame led to the final result. 

“We went from looking very comfortable to looking a little tight and unsure of ourselves. We kind of did the same thing in the Blair Oaks game where we get going good and then have a seven-minute spurt where we did not score at all,” Schnicker said of his team’s streaky offense. “There is a chemistry disconnect at certain points in the game so we have to do a better job of trying to find out how to minimize those and take advantage of the good streaks we are on. 

“I don’t know if we relaxed or if they just turned up some things, but we kind of got a little lackadaisical with the ball a couple of times and they made us pay for it. Hats off to them (Southern Boone), they kept fighting and gave themselves an opportunity to win.” 

Veterans led the way offensively for School of the Osage. Senior Zach Wheeler had no trouble finding the bottom of the net as he led the Indian offense with 30 points while senior Isaac Yoder contributed 11, senior Drake Gaines knocked down nine and both seniors Keyton Knamiller and Jacob Heermann finished with eight. 

“Zach was feeling it and we ran some good stuff where the guys could tell he was on so they made sure that they got him the ball where he could score. He had a really good night keeping us in it and expanding the lead and there were a lot of guys that contributed to that,” Schnicker pointed out. “There are a lot of assists that come with a guy getting 30 points so it was not just him, but a great team effort on finding him because they knew he was making shots.” 

The tournament may not have ended the way Osage would have liked, but Schnicker said the program is turning the corner as the Indians have finished among the top four teams in the conference tournament for two of the three years the tournament has existed. The Indians may not always win, but the coach said competing among the best of the conference has applications that go well beyond the basketball court. 

“When you set the bar higher and expect a little bit more, sometimes you fall short. We want to set the bar for them higher academically also to where maybe they fall short, but can learn from it, get better and do things a little bit out of their comfort zone to where later in life they’ll be successful,” he noted. “We are not going to settle for the easy way out and go to the left (consolation side of the bracket) to win two games because we know we can win two over there. Our expectation is to go to the right side and win the whole thing. The top four teams in our conference are really good teams and we are in the top four now so I think we’ve taken the right steps forward and those are games you possibly lose, but it will make us better for districts.”

And the team does not expect the path going forward to get any easier, but will look to finish strong. 

“We are going to face pressure the rest of the year and definitely into districts with Helias, Rolla and all those guys. We have to learn from it and get better so we handle those situations where we want to be playing our best,” the coach said. “Do you want to lose this game? No, but if you can learn from it and be better come the end of the season, then that is what we need.”  

Now Osage (6-5) will look to get right back to work and will have a week off before they dive into conference play on January 16 with a home game against California at 5 p.m.

“This was a little bit disappointing to our kids and staff, but if you can accept losing and not be disappointed about it then your culture is not very good. We are fine with them being disappointed in a loss because we don’t want them to be happy with those things, but at the same time we want to forget about it by tomorrow so we can get better and just get back to work,” Schnicker remarked. “We just have to keep working and keep getting better. I want to believe we have built a good culture here and are going in the right direction.”