Rolla (5-6) hosted Hillcrest for their Ozark Conference opener on Tuesday, Jan. 10. Four quarters was not nearly enough for these two teams, as ties at the end of regulation and the first overtime period forced two overtimes. At the end of a long night of basketball, Hillcrest was able to keep their energy level up just a bit more in the second overtime for an 80-72 win.
Both teams got off to odd starts on Tuesday night. Hillcrest had erratic passing for the entire first quarter thanks to strong defensive plays by the Bulldogs. Rolla failed to take advantage of a number of turnovers from that poor passing early, as they struggled to hit some open shots early in the quarter. As the first quarter wore on, Rolla started to find their stroke. Three three pointers and points from six different players were able to give the Bulldogs a 19-13 lead through the first.
Hillcrest started to settle down with their passing in the second, but Rolla's defense forced them into an array of bad shots. Hillcrest managed just nine points against the stingy Rolla defense in the quarter. Unfortunately, Rolla shots stopped falling again in the second, as they scored just eight points of their own to carry a 27-22 lead into the half. While the first half was a strong defensive battle, the foul numbers for both teams were reasonably low in the first half. That, however, did not carry into the second half.
Rolla's shooting was streaky again in the third, but a couple of late threes by Blaize Klossner helped to settle them down. The Bulldogs struggled to get clean looks early in the quarter because of intense pressure from Hillcrest. Despite a lot of defensive pressure, Hillcrest couldn't convert on the other end. Rolla held them to 10 points in the quarter, while scoring 13 of their own to take a 40-32 lead into the fourth. Outside of Klossner's threes, the Bulldogs got most of their work done at the free throw line, going 5-7 from the charity stripe.
While Hillcrest gathered a few fouls in the third with their aggressive defense, both teams started racking up fouls in the fourth. Both teams went to the line repeatedly in the fourth quarter. Nearly 20 free throws combined were taken in the fourth quarter, with Rolla going 7-8 from the line. Unfortunately, much like the third quarter, the Bulldogs couldn't get a ton of shots to fall from the field. Throughout the fourth quarter, Rolla had several great shots that were on line, but couldn't quite get them to fall. Hillcrest, however, found their shot from the field. Hillcrest scored 25 points in the quarter, led by eight points by Tim Washington.
The Rolla lead was whittled down throughout the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs managed to hold on to a narrow lead for most of the quarter. Hillcrest tied the game at 55 with just under a minute to go when Cole Pryor sank a three. It was the first time that Hillcrest was either tied with Rolla or in the lead since the first couple of minutes of the game. The game remained tied at 55 and Rolla nearly took the lead with 20 seconds left when Zac Burns fired a three from the corner, but it rimmed out and Hillcrest grabbed the rebound. Nick Janke then fouled Sam Terry almost immediately, sending him to the line to give Hillcrest the chance to take the lead. Terry sank both free throws to give the Hornets a 55-57 lead. Rolla had one final possession to tie the game and they put the ball in the hands of Josh Pritchett. After working the clock down a bit, Pritchett drove and banked a 15-footer off the glass and tied the game at 57 with six seconds left. Hillcrest fired up a game winning three, but missed to send the game to overtime.
Pritchett gave Rolla an early lead in the four minute overtime period and stretched the lead to four points for most of the period. Hillcrest spent most of the overtime period trying to fire threes to quickly close the gap, but none of them fell. Eventually, Hillcrest had the chance to tie when Washington was fouled going up for a layup. The shot fell and he sank the free throw to tie the game at 64. Rolla had the change to go for the win, but passed the ball out of bounds with 3.5 seconds left.
The second overtime was all Hillcrest. Hillcrest used repeated trips to the line, as team fouls do not reset at the end of regulation, and a couple of big shots from the field to stretch their lead to eight points and walk away with an 80-72 win. Rolla was able to get the score to as close as five, but with both teams shooting mostly free throws in the second overtime, they couldn't close the gap.
The Bulldogs had four players in double figures with Pritchett leading the way with 17. Klossner wasn't far behind with 15 of his own, Alec Buhr had 12 and Janke added 11. While Rolla didn't come away with the win, head coach Mark Miller thinks this is a game they can learn from.
"(Hillcrest is) a really good basketball team. We knew they were 8-3 coming in, won seven in a row, we knew they were gonna be a high-quality opponent, very athletic. I thought we battled well, played a good ballgame, just gotta shoot free throws better, gotta be able to close out a lead a little bit better," said coach Miller. "It's a good thing for us, because it's really the first time we've been in that situation where we've got a really tight ballgame with a high-quality basketball team and we've gotta get it done. We came up a little short this time, but it's a great learning experience for us and something we'll use to build on."
Rolla didn't do a horrible job of shooting free throws, going 22-28 in the game, but they missed a couple of huge free throws late and in overtime that might've helped them seal a victory.
"We wouldn't have had to make any big shots like that had we shot free throws a little better," said coach Miller. "That's something we really work on hard in practice and part of it is getting a little tougher mentally in pressure situations. We're getting more experience that'll do nothing but make us better as we go toward the end of the year."
Late in the game it was simple, the wear and tear of playing two overtime periods got to them a bit.
"It just felt like the whole game they were really battling, but they just had a look in their eyes when they'd come over to the bench during a timeout," said Miller. "They just looked like they were beat and worn out and trying everything we could to try to pick them up and encourage them. They were really frazzled and they were really worn out. That effects your ability to shoot the basketball down the stretch when you don't have the legs under you that you wanna have.
Next up for Rolla is a potential District preview. They host Helias on Friday, Jan. 13 pending weather.
Pritchett - 17, Klossner - 15, Buhr - 12, Janke - 11, B. Cunningham - 8, Burns - 6