The Mustangs took on Lebanon in the championship of the 88th annual Eldon Tournament and a tough night on the offensive end led to a 56-27 defeat for the Mustangs in their second lowest offensive output of the season.

The basket was not very kind to Eldon Saturday night. 

The Mustangs took on Lebanon in the championship of the 88th annual Eldon Tournament and a tough night on the offensive end led to a 56-27 defeat for the Mustangs in their second lowest offensive output of the season.

“I think Lebanon played their most intense game of the tournament so far. I thought they came out with a lot more enthusiasm than we saw in the first two rounds,” Eldon coach Ben Pallardy said of a Yellowjackets team that came in as the top seed. “Credit goes to them, they were ready to play and had a good game plan. I thought Coach (Bill) Brown did a very good job of preparing them for our tendencies and their players were very in tune to what we wanted to do on a player-to-player basis… They have a lot of attributes that really counter what we do well. They are able to guard the drive, are a very good position team on defense and can test well at the rim so we did not get anything easy.”

That certainly seemed to be the case after the first quarter. Eldon enjoyed its only lead of the night at 10-9 near the end of the first, but a 10-0 run in the second had the Mustangs down by 10 at halftime. Then a 7-0 run to start the third quarter created a mountain Eldon could not climb as outside shots were not falling and drives to the basket were often contested by Lebanon’s size advantage. Eldon had just 12 turnovers on the night, but the team’s lowest offensive output of the year also came against the Yellowjackets who held the Mustangs to 19 in a game at their gym earlier in the season.

Eldon had just one player who scored in double figures as senior Logan Hall paced the Mustangs with 11 points while fellow senior Elijah Rivera had nine respectively. 

“We tried to set a few more screens and get more going downhill. We had some open looks we did not hit, but a part of that goes to their defense because we did not have the time,” Pallardy said of the offensive adjustments his team tried to make. “They have length closing out on us so it may seem like the same shot as in other games but it is really not. You have to go a little faster and there is just a little more pressure on it on top of it being a championship game. 

“We needed to hit from the outside tonight and we didn’t… We tried to make adjustments and we have a free-flowing offense. I thought guys did good things and I thought we were making smart reads, were trying to set the right screens and we just did not convert.”

Pallardy also noted that if his team can hold an opponent to under 60 points then he usually likes his team’s odds of being able to compete. However, there were some things the Yellowjackets were able to do consistently well when they possessed the basketball. 

“They ran good, clean offense and they have a good passing team. With their size, they were able to throw it down to the short corner and were not trying to score from there,” the coach noted. “Our trap did not bother them as much because they could just see over it. They were able to make the right pass and they have good shooters that were stepping into it with rhythm.” 

While the night did not go Eldon’s way, there is always a lesson to be learned and Pallardy said the first thing he and his coaching staff told the players was how proud they were of them. Entering the tournament as a seventh seed, the Mustangs reached the finals and now have that championship game experience going forward.

“We are proud of the way we’ve competed, have just continued to improve and the fight that we have,” the coach said of a team that made its first Eldon Tournament championship appearance since 2012. “Coach (John) Hall made a good point at the end of the game that now we’ve felt what it is like to be in a championship game so we can take that and know what it is like. You don’t know how it feels until you’ve been in the game and there is a different energy and intensity when it comes to a championship than it does any other game. 

“When we go and play in our districts, we have the confidence we can make it to the finals and now we’ll have the experience to go along with that and know what it feels like to be in a championship game against quality teams.” 

Eldon (6-14, 1-2 Tri-County Conference) will now have some time to prepare to jump back into conference play when Blair Oaks comes to town on February 5 at 5 p.m. After winning four of the last six games, the Mustangs are certainly looking to make a strong finish in the final four games of the regular season and continue to give fans something to cheer about.

“The Eldon community has been unbelievable. The support has been overwhelming and the student section was really good again tonight,” Pallardy said of the crowd on hand for the championship game. “When you play hard and win some games, people take notice and people were excited. This is a basketball town from everything I’ve been told and I’m learning that. We’ve been hot here lately, and bringing pride back to Eldon basketball has been really important. We talk about it before every game trying to bring pride back to the program and I think now we are starting to grasp that and we just have to keep running with it.”