The Rolla boys basketball team (4-1) traveled to St. James (2-2) to face off against their cross-town rivals on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Rolla jumped out to a solid lead early and maintained it throughout the game in a 72-61 win.
Rolla and St. James were playing fast and furious on both sides of the ball, which led to some erratic offense early on. The Bulldogs got a layup from Alec Buhr on the opening tip, but after that, it took offenses a little time to settle in. St. James needed a full minute to score on a free throw by Bailey Terrill, as Rolla's inside out defense made things difficult. The Bulldogs used their athleticism and length to get into passing lanes around the perimeter and Nick Janke locked things down on the inside with great blocking. Rolla built their lead out to 10-5 with three minutes left to play in the first quarter, but after a quick timeout, Tyler Recker buried a three for St. James to cut into that lead. Rolla always seemed to have a response and led 17-10 through a quarter of play.
The Bulldogs kept rolling in the second, scoring the first nine points of the second quarter to stretch their lead out to 26-10. Ryan Harlan hit a jumper to end the Rolla run, but the Tigers still had a big gap to overcome. St. James started to whittle into that lead throughout the half, led by a seven-point quarter from Ivan Fuhring. Fuhring hit a three with two minutes left to play in the quarter to cut the Rolla lead to 28-23, but the Bulldogs ended the first half on a 4-2 tun to go into halftime with a 32-25 lead.
Rolla maintained that lead for the first few minutes of the third quarter, before Recker buried a three in front of the St. James student section to cut the Rolla lead to 39-35. The wind came right out of St. James' sails, however, as Fuhring was called for a technical foul right after the basket. That sent Josh Pritchett to the line for two free throws. Pritchett hit both of them as part of a fantastic third quarter performance. The senior forward scored 15 points in the third quarter alone, nine off which came on threes, to help Rolla hold onto their lead.
As the third quarter wound down, the threes kept flying. With 45 seconds left to play, Harlan buried a three to score the 602nd point of his career, which put him just past his dad, head football coach and former basketball coach Greg Harlan, on the all-time scoring list at St. James. Rolla responded to the three with one of their own, as Blaize Klossner connected from long range with 31 seconds left to play. The Tigers then came back down the court and Fuhring sank a three with 10 seconds left to play in the third. Fuhring then fouled Buhr with 1.3 seconds left in the quarter. The junior missed both free throws, but Janke scooped up the rebound and got a quick put-back up to give Rolla a 59-49 lead heading into the fourth.
St. James tried to chip into that lead throughout the fourth quarter, but they could never close the gap. The Tigers were able to get as close as six points shy of Rolla, but the Bulldogs always had an answer at the other end to keep a comfortable lead, finishing things off by running out the final minute off the clock in a 72-61 win.
"It's a good feeling," said Pritchett of taking down Rolla's friendly rivals down the road. "Our student section really showed up today and our fans made the trip down. It was just a great atmosphere and great environment to play in."
Pritchett put on a show on Tuesday night, scoring 27 points to lead the Bulldogs to victory. He added six rebounds, a steal, a block and an assist. But it wasn't just Pritchett scoring for Rolla, Buhr added a double-double with 19 points and 10 assists to go along with six steals and four rebounds. Blaize Klossner hit three triples for nine points, while grabbing three steals, two assists, a block and a rebound. Down in the paint, Janke had eight points, six points and two blocks, but had to spend quite a bit of time on the bench with foul trouble. He fouled out of the contest with just under four minutes to play. Pritchett thinks he and his teammates have been clicking early this season.
"I feel like this year we definitely have a lot more chemistry," said the senior forward. "During the offseason, a lot of guys stepped up and really put their game together to help us out early. I feel like with all of our guys stepping up and being able to score, it doesn't put as much pressure on me and the other team can't just guard one person, you've gotta guard all of us or we're gonna torch 'em."
St. James had a really balanced offensive attack in the game, but struggled with turnovers. The Tigers had 23 turnovers in the loss, which is more than double of what they've averaged at this point in the season.
"They got up and defended us well. They're long and wrecked some havoc," said St. James head coach Ben Smith. "We've got to do a better job of, when we're making a run at somebody, making sure we get a good shot."
The Tigers had a solid night offensively outside of the turnovers. Four different players shot in double figures for St. James, led by Recker and Fuhring with 14 points a piece. Recker also added seven rebounds to lead the team, while Fuhring tied with Mason Parker for the team lead in assists with four. Harlan ended the game with 13 points, bringing his career total to 608, while Bailey Terrill scored 12 points, most of which came from 14 trips to the foul line. Carter Keeney led the team in steals with four.
"They're the best team we've played and, overall, I'm pretty pleased with how we competed," said coach Smith. "I think if we go back and look at the film and see that we can clean up some silly turnovers. I mean, they're gonna create some turnovers, just because of their length, they're going to cause some problems, but there were some things that we can clean up a little bit."
Coach Smith thinks this game was a good measuring stick for St. James that they can really learn from to improve.
"It definitely doesn't hurt us. They're definitely going to be one of the better teams we see this year," said the St. James head coach. "We hopefully recognized that we can compete with them. You hate to lose any game, but I think we learn a little bit from it."
As for Rolla, head coach Mark Miller thinks Rolla still has a lot of room to grow, while they scored 71 points, he thinks this team can shoot at a higher percentage than they have this season.
"We scored 72 points tonight and that's great, but this team hasn't shot the ball they way it's capable of from top to bottom," said Miller. "We've got some guys that can really fill it up and started to break through tonight. Hopefully it's showing us what's to come."
Defensively, Rolla has a lot to like from this game. Rolla had 13 steals and blocked four shots in a strong defensive performance. While Rolla played well, coach Miller sees room for improvement.
"I think we can play some pretty good D," said the Rolla head coach. "There's a few breakdowns that we had tonight, but St. James is going to put some points on the board, especially when you put them on the line as much as we did...the defense has got to improve and the turnovers have to improve, but we'll get there."
While Pritchett has felt some great chemistry with his teammates early on, coach Miller thinks Rolla's best basketball is still in front of them.
"We're getting some things done, but we've still got a long way to go," said Miller. "Our best basketball is definitely ahead of us."
Rolla has a week off before they hit the court again when they host Salem on Tuesday, Dec. 12. St. James, meanwhile, will see that same Salem team on Friday, Dec. 8.