Lakers erase 14-point deficit with big shots and key stops

Camdenton would not be denied Saturday night in the Laker Shootout.

The mountain to climb was steep as the Lakers trailed by as many as 14 points midway through the third quarter, but they continued to fight and chip away at the deficit until they reached the summit and claimed a 50-47 win over the visiting Warrensburg Tigers.

Trailing by just a single point with 1:30 left to go in the contest, senior Austin Carter knocked down a big 3-pointer to give the Lakers the lead for good. After a Warrensburg turnover on the ensuing possession, Camdenton sophomore Brandon Pasley made one of his two free throws to make it a 3-point game and the Lakers made another key defensive stop on the final play as the buzzer sounded and the comeback was complete.

“It was awesome,” said Camdenton sophomore Paxton DeLaurent who was named the game’s MVP after leading his team with 18 points. “We had 12 straight losses and a lot of them had been close. Coach put us in a good spot for the play, Austin hit the shot and then we played good defense so it was a great win.”

Indeed, a lot of Camdenton’s losses had been close. So far this season, the Lakers had come up short by just 10 points or less on nine separate occasions, but that narrative would not repeat itself Saturday night.

“The biggest thing was the fact that we were playing so poorly and were still hanging around. It goes back to the fact that if you make some shots, all of a sudden you feel good and we were able to start hitting a few shots and start chipping away,” Camdenton coach Craig Campbell said. “They never gave up and they’ve never given up. Even when we lose, they keep fighting and as long as they keep doing that, we’ll be all right.”

The night started off as a track meet with several ties and lead changes, but after both sides were tied at 18, Warrensburg utilized a 14-2 run to take a 32-20 lead into halftime. The lead extended to 14 before Camdenton managed to pull within 8 by the end of the third quarter and continue to ride its momentum to the finish line.

“Our game plan was to make it a track meet and see if they could keep up because they were only about six (players) deep and I had nine so I was going to go for it,” Campbell noted. “They (Warrensburg) wanted to be kind of slow and methodical and we knew if we played their game, we would struggle. We wanted to make it up and down and the problem was that we could not finish. I want to say we had 18 shots we missed within three feet of the basket in the first half.”

But the Camdenton defense stepped up in the second half and made stops when they were needed most.

“The fact that we were able to keep it close was key. If it got away from us, I don’t know if we would have come back,” Campbell remarked. “We started chipping away, kept it close and all of a sudden they (Warrensburg) got a little tight, which had normally been us at the end. Tonight it was them.

“The five guys that were on the floor in the end in T.J. (Anderson), Paxton, Brandon, Connor (Graves) and Luke (Eveland) played their tails off defensively. There were three possessions in the last 30 seconds where we got stops, shut them down and did a great job. That is what we’ve been needing and we just have not been able to get them, but were able to get one tonight.”

The sophomore Anderson added 14 points, including eight in the fourth quarter to help fuel the comeback, while junior Keegan Ford finished with six and Pasley put up five. Anderson said the team’s defense led to some easy buckets on the other end and he simply had to help create some open looks.

“It was really just playing really hard defense,” he said. “I had to get my mind straight to play more defense and make my guy turn. Then, I had to get to the basket or kick it out for wide open looks.”

For Campbell, there was plenty of praise to go around on a night where the team stepped up without two key regular contributors in senior Garrett Golliher and junior Kelton Virtue, who were out with illness.

“I think Paxton bounced back and played a lot better tonight. Austin hit that big shot after missing a couple of wide open shots and layups he normally makes and to step up and hit that shot took some guts,” the coach stated. “T.J. played a lot better in the second half and Brandon’s free throw was huge because it forced them (Warrensburg) to have to shoot a 3-pointer.”

He was also pleased with his bench and the efforts of Treyvor Watson and Drake Miller for giving the team some quality minutes on the floor. The coach went on to note that there is not any one “Go-To Guy” that will deliver a win every night so nothing less than a team effort will be required.

“This was definitely a team effort game... It has to be a team effort if we are going to be able to do it,” Campbell stated. “Hopefully, they are finally fully accepting it and I think today they did. I think they were ok with whoever was open taking the shot or whoever had the best look and it was good to see that.”

Camdenton (2-13, 0-4 Ozark Conference) will look to stay in the win column when the Bolivar Tournament starts on Thursday night and runs through Saturday. Campbell feels like the tournament could be wide open with a lot of .500 or sub-500 (winning percentage) teams.

“Everybody in that tournament is beatable, but at the same time everybody in that tournament can beat each other so it is kind of wide open,” he said. “Getting this win and pulling one out, that gives us confidence going into that tournament so hopefully we can make some noise.”